Daniel Nelson

Families tend to be strong in societies where the state is non-existent or corrupt, and that can be appalling as When the Crows Visit shows.

Who wants family values when bedridden grandma sees only good in her brutally misogynistic son and has been horrible to his long-suffering wife, who in turn is blindly, corruptly loyal to her own wayward, sexist and equally violent son?

No good will come of this, as we are heavy-handedly reminded by the gathering crows outside the window of the room where all the action takes place, beneath a whirring ceiling fan.

In the distant capital a terrible event takes place – a version of the sickening, mutilating group rape in Delhi that sparked national outrage in 2012 – and the bloody wash quickly reaches the suffocating, crow-mobbed room.

The gathering doom of a cursed family is occasionally punctured by sharp and affectionate dialogue and a comic turn from an angry neighbour, but a final act of sexual violence inexorably approaches.

Writer Anupama Chandrasekhar rips into the patriarchy and in his programme note Deepa Narayan (author of CHUP: Breaking the Silence About India’s Women) skewers the point that a cosily praised “good boy” and “good girl” can mask an endlessly vicious, abusive, oppressive system.

“For an oppressive system to last, the powerless have to use whatever weapon they have as women against each other in their fight for survival and to squeeze whatever leverage they can from the crumbs of the powerful. In a ‘good’ patriarchy, women do not trust each other, they use whatever advantage they have – especially sons – against each other, and there is no female solidarity that outshines loyalty and worship of men. This inequality is ritualized in everyday behaviours. Fathers, husbands and sons, all things male, can do no wrong and if they do, it’s a loyalty test.

“Even rape, sexual molestation gets normalised, mothers say to their daughters ‘… it happens, forget it.’”

It’s painful to watch and one can only hope that by rubbing our noses in it, Chandrasekhar is helping drawing attention to the way that family values are in reality – what? I’ve just looked up antonyms for ‘family values’ and was confronted by the search answer: “We couldn’t find direct antonyms for the term family values.”

Which shows how terrifyingly pervasive they are.

I don’t know what audiences will make of the play in India but in Kilburn, even with its odd shifts of tone, it makes for a blistering, insightful, distressing evening.

* When the Crows Visit is at the Kiln, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6, until 30 November. Info: 7328 1000/ info@kilntheatre.com

+ Sex tapes and acid attacks: Anupama Chandrasekhar, the playwright shocking India

Three's Company

Three's Company

Image by joanne clifford

 

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