Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

A British Subject – Off Broadway Theater Review




picture - A British SubjectTheater Review

by Andrew Turner

published December 23, 2009


A British Subject

now playing Off Broadway at 59E59 Theatres

through January 3


When I hear critics telling me something is going to be "harrowing" or that I'll be on the "edge of my seat," that's usually my cue to "run for the door." Unfortunately, you can't do that as a theater reviewer. So I forced myself to sit through all seventy-five minutes of A British Subject, now playing Off Broadway at 59E59 Theatres, although doing so made me feel extremely "nauseous."


The play is based on the true story of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British subject of Pakistani heritage. Lacking a fair trial, he received the death penalty for his alleged murder of a taxi driver. During the eighteen years he waited for his execution in a Pakistani jail, only one journalist – Don MacKay of the Daily Mirror – went to visit him. The play recounts that experience.


A worthwhile story, to be sure, but one that is not told effectively. For one, it's entirely too rushed. A look at the fifty-seven page script informs me there are fifty-nine scenes – more than one per page.  The characters have no time to establish themselves before they are whisked offstage or morphed into another character. Playwright Nichola Auliffe clearly suffers from ADD of the word processor. Her script, in its constant changing of locales and thumbnail sketches, more closely resembles a movie script then a stage drama.


There’s also entirely too much hand-wringing, looking to the sky, and asking "why why why?!" from the actors.  Kulvinder Ghir, who plays prisoner Mirza Hussain, is the worst culprit of the bunch. His performance is a study in melodrama; you could almost see the ellipses when he gasped for breath. In a play like this, it's vital you identify with the victim, and his performance makes it impossible.


Surprisingly, the best performance comes from playwright Nichola Auliffe, who plays no less than six different characters. She is clearly an accomplished actress, bouncing from character to character with deftness and ease. Perhaps she ought to stick with acting, because as the production stands now, the only reason people will be on the edge of their seat is to be the first ones out the door.


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