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Paradise of the Assassins review at Tara Arts, London – ‘evocative, but solemn’

Ralph Birtwell, Asif Khan and Mitesh Soni in Paradise of the Assassins at Tara Arts, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Tara Arts is 40 years old next year and, ahead of that landmark anniversary, its tiny home theatre in Earlsfield has had a makeover. The transformation from black box to towering, majestic arts space is worthy of a Grand Designs special – a fusion of Edwardian brickwork and Indian wood.

To open this new space, former artistic director of Hampstead Theatre, Anthony Clark has adapted Paradise of the Assassins, from the 19th century novel by Abdul Halim Sharar.

Two lovers, Hussain and Zamurrud, contrive to combine a pilgrimage with their elopement.  When they are separated by villains, Hussain is led to believe that Zamurrud is dead and is encouraged to take up the assassin’s blade in order to reunite with his beloved in paradise.

The parallels with current extremism are all too apparent here and Hussain’s radicalisation by Ali Vujoodi is darkly persuasive. The play is, however, heavy on theology and light on drama and Clark’s respectful adaptation drags desperately in places.

Fortunately his ensemble cast feature some very strong performers, including Ralph Birtwell and Rina Fatania, who provide flashes of colour in an otherwise overworked palette of characters. Despite the dry writing style, Skye Hallam, as Zamurrud, and Asif Khan, as Hussain, manage to forge a volatile chemistry as lovers and their quest gives this play its much needed emotional centre. Matilde Marangoni’s simplistic, evocative design works particularly well in the new space and Danyal Dhondy’s original music punctuates an otherwise solemn narrative.

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Heavy-handed writing overpowers an otherwise potent love story