Iman Qureshi’s The Funeral Director, this year’s winner of the Papatango prize for new writing, is a sensitive and nuanced exploration of sexuality and the Islamic faith.
Ayesha (Aryana Ramkhalawon) and her husband Zeyd (Maanuv Thiara) run a Muslim funeral home in a Midlands town. It’s her family business, inherited from her mother.
When a grief stricken young white man turns up at their door asking them to arrange the funeral of his male Muslim partner, Ayesha turns him away, afraid of what will happen to their standing in the community if they help him. The fallout from this is further complicated by the fact that Ayesha and Zeyd’s marriage is faltering, for reasons that become apparent when Janey (Jessica Clark), the woman Ayesha was once in love with, returns to town.
While Qureshi’s play occasionally relies too heavily on plot contrivances, its depiction of Ayesha and Zeyd’s relationship, their affection and respect for one another, the role of their faith in their everyday lives, is elegantly drawn – even if the scene where Zeyd tries to remedy their stalled sex life by presenting his wife with a bulbous pink sex toy stretches plausibility
Hannah Hauer-King’s direction keeps things moving on Amy Jane Cook’s detailed funeral home set, though at times the relationship between Ayesha and Janey feels over-explained and under-expressed.
Despite Ramkhalawon’s best efforts, Ayesha’s growing sense of her sexuality also feels a little heavy-handed. But Qureshi is definitely a writer of insight and her play is at its strongest and sharpest when it digs in to the rituals and business of death and the complex set of economic, emotional, social and religious pressures to which Ayesha, her marriage and her business, are subject.