After a successful string of performances in London’s Southwark Playhouse, the matinee of The Funeral Director by Iman Qureshi took place on Thursday 14th of March in the intimate Neville Theatre of Nottingham Playhouse before an anticipatory audience.
“The Funeral Director explores, with delicacy yet fearlessness, the difficulty of contemporary Islamic attitudes towards sex-same relationships”
The play continued its 3-night run at 7.45pm, culminating on Saturday 16th March. The Funeral Director explores, with delicacy yet fearlessness, the difficulty of contemporary Islamic attitudes towards sex-same relationships. The strained marriage of a repressed couple, Ayesha and Zeyd, takes the forefront through Ayesha’s physical distance and reluctance to start a family. Matters are complicated at the Muslim funeral parlour when a gay man, Tom, requests a funeral for his boyfriend. The pair make the decision to turn him away based on sexuality, and the familial, social and personal repercussions must be dealt with in turn. Although the play covers the many facets and discourses of prejudice and hate, the message of inclusivity and acceptance shines through as the protagonist, Ayesha, goes through an emotional journey in order to accept herself.
The play opens with the powerful tableau of Ayesha entering with their latest client in her arms, a dead baby girl. This immediately establishes the invisible forces that constantly hang over a couple that live with the daily reminder of death; religious, familial and pressures from the community must all be taken into consideration in every decision that the young couple face. This is constantly underlined by the beautiful Islamic music that accompanies scene transitions, and the depiction of Islamic prayer. There is a stark contrast with Western privilege that is thrown into relief by the return of Ayesha’s oldest friend, Janey.
“The staging of the play artfully shows this combination public and personal issues”
There are parallels throughout between the homophobia faced by the LGBTQ community, such as rejection from family, and the Islamophobia faced by the young couple when their decision is leaked to the media, resulting in a high-profile court case. The staging of the play artfully shows this combination public and personal issues, as the stage is divided between the intimate setting of the home and the stark funeral parlour for business. The staging here further emphasises the discrimination each character faces in different ways, showing the multi-faceted social pressures that infiltrate the psyche of English society today.
“Eventually she understands that in order to tackle problems of bias and inclusivity, the norm must continuously be challenged”
The acting is consistent and convincing, and the emotional issues are driven home to the audience with dignity, leaving the impression of privilege for those lucky enough not to face such delicate yet pressing expectations. Zeyd laments the frustration of a husband in love, with an irrevocable barrier between himself and his wife, and Tom portrays devastating heartbreak with conviction. Ayesha must come to terms with a buried secret in order to make amends with Tom, and accept that the personal issues that penetrate her social and familial world stem from something more than religious conservativism. Eventually she understands that in order to tackle problems of bias and inclusivity, the norm must continuously be challenged. Such issues are highly relevant to today’s society, as discrimination is experienced by all minorities, and this is intensely felt in the setting of a bleak Midlands town.
Featured Image courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic, The Nottingham Playhouse.