A British Subject, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Michael Coveney
Thursday 27 August 2009 00:00
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The subject is Mirza Tahir Hussain from Leeds who was incarcerated on death row in Rawalpindi prison after killing a cab driver in self defence.

But the subject is also the difficulty and frustration experienced by a journalist and an actress, married to each other, who tried to raise political and public awareness of Tahir's cause.

The journalist was Don Mackay of the Daily Mirror, who cheated his way into the country and then smuggled himself into the prison to get the story.

The actress was Nichola McAuliffe, who has written the play and appears in it as herself, moaning about picking up Don's parking fines while he scoots off in search of a scoop on foreign soil.

The best thing about the play is this ironic juxtaposition of mixed-motivated intervention and tragic stalemate; Tahir was imprisoned at 18 and served that same number of years in disgusting conditions, literally wasting away.

Tahir did assault the cab driver, but he claims he did so in self-defence after being asked for his passport, and sex, at gunpoint. He had been "home" on Pakistani soil for just 24 hours.

Kulvinder Ghir, in the central interview scene with Tom Cotcher's blustery Mackay, presents a picture of abject resignation and spiritual integrity, clutching his prison bucket with the tenderness of a child with a teddy bear.

Prince Charles finally intervenes, after McAuliffe writes to him, and Tahir is released. The piece is notably well performed by Cotcher, McAuliffe and Shiv Grewal as both Tahir's never-say-die brother and the smooth colonial-style prison governor, overseeing his filthy hell-hole in the manner of one managing a five star hotel.

To 31 August (0131-556 6550)

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