Review: Spectacular fusion of ancient and modern in Islam-infused work

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Nick Le Mesurier reviews Paradise of the Assassins at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Paradise of the Assassins brings the ancient and the modern together in a spectacular form. Based on a 19th century novel by Lucknow author Abdul Halim Sharar, it tells a tale of a small but deadly sect, the Batiniyah, who espouse their own radical version of Islam. It’s a version that sanctions the assassination of enemies, whom they take to be any Muslim who holds different, particularly more moderate, views. The tale is set in 13th century Persia, but it has obvious parallels with the world today.

The play is told as a fable. Hussein (Asif Khan) is doing Hajj with his beloved Zamurrad (Skye Hallam). On their journey they meet a group of weird gypsy-like people who drug Hussein. While sleeping, Zamurrad is abducted, and Hussein believes her killed. Bereft, he yearns for death to be united with her again in paradise. In such a vulnerable state he falls in with the Batiniyah, whose charismatic lieutenant Ali Vujoodi (Naveed Khan) demands of him absolute loyalty, for which he promises temporary access to paradise and to Zamurrad, who is not dead but held captive. So much does Hussein yearn for paradise that he will do literally anything, even murdering his beloved uncle. The sect grows in power, drawing upon people’s fear and gullibility, till one day Hussein learns the truth of his willing deception.

Though the play is singularly Muslim in its references, its message goes beyond any particular faith. It is perhaps a little too long but is conceived and performed with vigour and conviction and is entertaining as well as enlightening.