Review: Pah-La, Royal Court

Intriguing subject matter can’t quite elevate Pah-La above its frustrating structural issues at the Royal Court

“You are unsure whether you are here or not but you are absolutely sure that Tibet is yours”

I was a huge fan of Abhishek Majumdar’s hugely atmospheric The Djinns of Eidgah, so was intrigued to see him return to the Royal Court with new play Pah-La. Set in Tibet, it circles around the realities of political protest under an oppressive regime, particularly in light of native Buddhist philosophy. 

As Chinese interlopers arrive in Eastern Tibet to ‘re-educate’ the masses, the threat imposed on the local nunnery is personified in the form of Deshar, a woman who took the habit in defiance of her father’s wishes and shows similar obduracy now, to searingly horrific effect.

It’s a powerfully effective opening act, illustrative and intelligent in its presentation of ethical quandaries without ever landing too heavily on one side. Post-interval though, the imposition of the playwright’s structure has a warping effect, as he chases a symmetry that doesn’t quite feel appropriate.

Ultimately it all feels a touch clumsy, speeches go on for too long as they become repetitive, and contrived plot becomes king. Debbie Hannan’s design reinvents the space well though, and there’s powerful, thought-provoking acting from Millicent Wong and Gabby Wong. A noble attempt then, to delve into a fascinating subject, of which I certainly now want to know more.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Helen Murray
Pah-La is booking at the Royal Court until 24th April

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