Controversy has surrounded this work. The first instance was last year when the Royal Court was accused of censorship by playwright Abhishek Majumdar, who claimed the play had been halted due to fears that negative Chinese reaction might collide with the Royal Court’s arts programme in Beijing. The second instance was more recent when the Court made an apology that no Tibetan performers were involved in the production. Through all this external drama, the Dalai Lama gave Majumdar and Pah-La his blessing.
It should be applauded that Majumdar takes his audience on an unusual journey into a Tibetan nunnery and a Chinese prison, and is telling the story of a defiant Tibetan nun and her catastrophic run-in with Chinese officials. The narrative is based on real accounts of the 2008 Lhasa riots.
If you are not familiar with the complex machinations between Tibet and the Chinese State, the play can at times get confusing. However, putting that aside and focussing on the conflicts between the characters on stage means the dramatic thread of events is comprehensible and engaging.
Majumdar takes his craft seriously as can be seen in the intensely dramatic twists and turns that his narrative takes. However, the play can at times become device heavy. The mirroring of the Tibetan and Chinese father-daughter relationships feels more like writerly manipulation than a believable occurrence in the plot. The narrative strands are too neatly tied together in what is essentially a tangled and complex clash of human emotion and trauma. However, director Debbie Hanna’s production of Pah-La is worth experiencing for the completely unexpected, searing moment that ends the first half.
There is some overacting and moments when you can hear the script being spoken aloud instead of the characters responding genuinely in the moment. However, Millicent Wong as Deshar burns brightly in her UK theatre debut, and Daniel York Loh gives nuance to the emotionally imploding commander Deng.
Regardless of its imperfections, it is worth seeing this dense and sometimes histrionic play as a palate cleanser to the more insular, narrow band of content that British theatre has a tendency to focus on.
|Pah-La, Royal Court review
|Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, SW1W 8AS | MAP
|Sloane Square (underground)
03 Apr 19 – 27 Apr 19, Evening performances Monday-Saturday, 3pm matinees Thursdays & Saturdays
|£25 (£15 under 26s)
|Click here to book via Royal Court Theatre