Observations: A condemned man won't look back in anger by Nichola McAuliffe
Friday 28 October 2011
I just wanted to write a play that told the story of the people involved in an extraordinary series of events. I am not a Stoppard or a Hare, I am neither intellectual nor political but I think drama leavened with humour is the best medium for communicating the complexity of right and wrong, and the shades of grey between. But most of all I want people to be intrigued, and hopefully moved by, the extraordinary story of Mirza Tahir Hussain, who is the subject of my new play, which I'm also starring in, at the Arts Theatre.
Aged 18, from Leeds, Hussain went to Pakistan, not to train at a fundamentalist madrasah but to visit his granny. Within 24 hours of arriving he was charged with the murder of a taxi driver, and arms and drugs offences. Eighteen years later, he was still on death row in Rawalpindi central jail – until he was released in 2006.
I was unaware of his existence until my husband, a journalist, was sent to interview him. Preferably before they put the noose round his neck, as all avenues of appeal had been exhausted.
I had sent a message to him saying I would make a novena, nine days of prayers, to St Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. Though a devout Muslim, he sent his good wishes to me, and there grew between us a strange bond of prayer and faith across a chasm of circumstance, religion and background. Tahir, despite half his life being spent in a bare cell with 10 other condemned men, had the spiritual depth of a Mandela. He had no bitterness or anger and had maintained a quietly subversive sense of humour.
'A British Subject', Arts Theatre, London WC2 (020 7907 7092; www.artstheatrewestend.co.uk) 2 to 26 November
This Halloween, attendees of the latest BBC Concert Orchestra event are to be asked to wear eye masks during a rare performance of Visage, Luciano Berio's early electro-acoustic composition. The idea is to plunge concert-goers all the deeper into the emotional extremes created by the cut-ups of a wordless human voice and to prove that classical music can genuinely chill the blood.
Rather than ghosts and ghouls, the orchestra's specially devised programme leans more towards psychological darkness. Creepy thrills come courtesy of Francis Poulenc's psychodrama La Voix Humaine, essentially one side of a harrowing phone call, and Krzysztof Penderecki's Polymorphia, designed to evoke nameless terrors and used in soundtracks for horror classics The Exorcist and The Shining.
This is some departure for an ensemble better known for safe, middle-of-the-road fare, most recently this summer's Proms' film music night and Proms in the Park. Principal conductor Keith Lockhart is looking forward to the challenge, not least because as an American he is sick of how Halloween has developed in the US. "It is a bowdlerised, highly commercialised occasion where kids eat too much candy." he says. "This event gets to the festival's roots, looking at darker forces."
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