Bollywood and Lollywood films frequently depict Mujra clubs - or Moslem brothels - but they stop short of the full story. Writer Yasmin Whittaker Khan sets out to deglamorise and expose their ugly reality on the basis of her research into Britain’s little publicised Mujras.
Her work is paired with Azma Dar’s sharply contrasting play Chaos, running in parallel at Southwark Playhouse. The two plays share actors who take on very different and strongly acted roles.
Nicholas Khan as Ashraf transforms himself into a morally bankrupt brute with vestiges of the good bloke, while Marc Elliott portrays Pepsi as a camp queen, weeping within, and Damian Asher is the oh-so-British - but also Indian - Charles.
The play’s two women, who unlike the male characters do not appear in Chaos, are Shivan Ghai as Aiesha, a whore with integrity and literary taste, and Madam, played with worldly swagger by Sharona Sassoon.
The audience is part of the clientele in Madam and Ashraf’s Mujra club Bells, which is tucked away above Ashraf’s halal butcher’s shop.
Similarities between the two meat markets are underlined by Matthew Wright’s set design. The clinical doors of the butcher’s fridge open to reveal the seedy, sparkly promise of the Mujra.
One minute we are unnerved by proximity to Ashraf’s bloodied apron and lethal butchering knives, the next by Aiesha’s and Pepsi’s gyrating hips and bellies.
The message is unsubtle and the realities to which we are exposed can seem exaggerated but they succeed in presenting a world that some people like to pretend does not exist.