Anupama Chandrasekhar’s When the Crows Visit is a haunting beast of a play, one that persistently claws away at expectations and comforts until nothing remains but a raw, painful wound. Here, the thing with feathers is not grief, as Max Porter wrote, but sorrow, trauma and violence.
The arrogant video game designer, Akshay (Bally Gill), pays an unexpected visit to the family home. He has left – or rather, fled – Mumbai in haste and the true extent of the deed he’s running from is gradually revealed.
He returns to a house of women: his mother, Hema (Ayesha Dharker), grandmother, Jaya (Soni Razdan) and her nurse, Ragini (Aryana Ramkhalawon). They initially dote on the prodigal son but, in truth, his presence spells doom for all of them.
Razdan’s Jaya has shades of Rose in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, another flailing acid-tongued elder who may or may not be a hypochondriac. It’s Dharker, however, who is iridescent, making Hema a shape-shifting bundle of sympathy, sadness and utterly despicable behaviour.
Indhu Rubasingham’s production is a little over-shouty, even for a depiction of a dysfunctional family, but it builds to a harrowing final scene. The horror of the story is all the more pronounced for how it contrasts with Richard Kent’s beautiful teal-tinted set with its hypnotic, slow-revolve ceiling fan.
Chandrasekhar draws inspiration from Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts and weaves in Hindu mythology. What’s ultimately so disturbing is the suggestion evil isn’t a supernatural force, but an impulse possessed and acted on by living and breathing human beings.