The House of In Between review at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London – ‘engaging if soapy’
Ancient and contemporary ideas of gender identity are intriguingly interwoven in Sevan K Greene’s play, The House of In Between, about India’s hijra community. Hijras are defined in many parts of Asia as a third gender. Some are men who have had their genitals removed, some were born intersex; they are not transsexual, but something other, something less easy to label, historically they are people apart, reviled and revered in equal measure, worshiped, coveted and ostracised.
It’s a fascinating world with its own rules and rituals, and Greene’s play spends – by necessity – a fair bit of time explaining these, to the extent where it sometimes feels like it’s flinging information at the audience. Even so, it leaves you wanting to know more.
Dramatically the play has the feel of a soap opera. The hijras live in clans, led by a matriarch, here played by Esh Alladi. We get a glimpse of their lives before their world is disrupted by the arrival of a young runaway. The play’s structure is fairly bitty, there’s an excess of subplot, and some of the dialogue clangs like a badly aimed stage-slap (there’s one of those too), but it remains engaging for all its roughness – its soapiness is part of its appeal.
Pooja Ghai’s production is at its strongest when the tone is slightly heightened, when the characters are discussing sex and love as a hijra, but it often goes too far, tipping into melodrama. It’s at its most interesting when it shows their world colliding with the one outside the home they have made for themselves.
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