The Cord – Bush Theatre, London

Reviewer: Dulcie Godfrey

Writer and Director: Bijan Sheibani

It is amongst the sleepy haze of the new-born phase that Bijan Sheibani’s new production The Cord emerges, providing a gripping and intimate look at family relationships.

Sheibani is coming off the back of his place in the writing room of Netflix’s hit One Day, and not to forget his titan reputation from directing some of the most well-received productions in the last few years, namely the NT’s Barber Shop Chronicles. Sheibani’s writing debut came at The Bush in 2019, and five years later Sheibani somewhat rises to the expectations that set with this new production.

Criticised and praised for the complexity of The Arrival, in contrast, The Cord is a familiar story. New couple struggle with the birth of their first child. Typical sleep-deprived arguments between new dad Ash (Irfan Shamji) and new mum Anya (Eileen O’Higgins) are to be expected; breastfeeding struggles, sexual chemistry taking a bit of a hit, and with help from the in-laws they’re getting by. But soon the squabbles quickly descend into something more serious. Ash’s failure to bond with his son turns irritability into dangerously heated anger. His insecurity manifests, and the present collides with a tortured past, serving up a host of past traumas with his mother Jane (Lucy Black).

The staging is as simple as the premise, Samal Blak’s empty grey carpeted stage in the round is flooded with Oliver Fenwick’s white and grey lighting for an almost dreamlike feel, with Colin Alexander accompanying the action with simple cello melodies played live on stage. It’s through this sleepy feel that we see Shamji and O’Higgins circle around their beloved newborn, and both performers provide an engaging performance; they’re truly believable as new parents.

Ash’s irritability crescendos nicely, and with Lucy Black’s Jane as his matter-of-fact mother. The audience’s sympathy waxes and wanes between them with moving results. The dialogue subtly teases out how family dynamics and personal trauma can be stimulated by new parenthood, effectively ornamented with simple physicality from Sheibani’s regular collaborator Aline David.

Sheibani’s characters are certainly layered and complex, most prominently new-dad Ash who, so frustratingly irrational, elicits inappropriate and grim laughter from the audience. But it’s in this uncomfortable laughter however that the production misses the mark on the emotional climax. The frustration at Ash’s infuriating inability to articulate his turmoil sways sympathies slightly too much, and although the resolution is utterly compassionate, particularly the emotional breakthrough between Ash and his mother, it impacts the lasting impression of the production. Ash finally looks at his son with uninhibited emotion, ‘he’s really looking at me’, but it simply doesn’t pack the emotional punch it should.

But overall, it’s a familiar story of strained family dynamics, and the true punch of Sheibani’s The Cord comes with its intimate, honest and compelling simplicity.

Runs until 25 May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Honest and compelling simplicity

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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