Tag Archives: Helen Coyston

Homing Birds

Homing Birds


Tara Theatre

Homing Birds

Homing Birds

Tara Theatre

Reviewed – 27th November 2019



“a work of significance and spirited potency,a deep and intelligent examination of people and themes too rarely presented on stage”


A desire to discover roots and gain a sense of belonging drives the absorbing new play Homing Birds, which comes to the Tara Theatre in Earlsfield at the end of a short autumn tour.

Award-winning writer Rukhsana Ahmad’s story is simple and thought-provoking, if a shade predictable, but the well-drawn characters and sparkling performances take it to a higher level altogether.

Produced by the always exciting and risk-taking Kali Theatre company (who specialise in developing and touring contemporary work by women writers of South Asian descent) Homing Birds focuses on an earnest young doctor, Saeed, who was sent to London as a refugee after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Brought up by a kind British couple he decides he wants to rediscover his family and his heritage back home after the death of his adoptive mother, especially wondering if he will ever see his much-loved sister again.

It’s a well-crafted drama that portrays the pain of separation very well – in this case the adoptive father coming to terms with the death of his wife and their past together and the young man mourning his “mum” as well as the loss, physically and emotionally, of his homeland.

As well as showing us the “settled” life Saeed enjoys (and appreciates) in London after being forced to leave home with less than a day’s notice, the play explores how memories of the past can be romanticised. Saeed has a rosy remembrance of boiled sweets and old songs rather than the war that pushed him away from his family and homeland. What could so easily have been another play about the impact of war on individuals becomes something much more interesting and challenging.

As Saeed Jay Varsani is a revelation and definitely a name to watch for the future. He breaks the fourth wall in this charming performance space sufficiently to allow the audience insight into his thoughts and nightmares without resorting to obvious dramatic soliloquising to a front row from whom he is often only inches away. It is a character we love immediately and Varsani makes it a joy to follow Saeed’s journey of discovery and to share in the different facets of love he experiences.

It is important that any member of the audience can have an idea about the difficulty in tracing roots and feeling one belongs somewhere, especially when one’s knowledge of the place in question relies on questionable memories and the horrors of news headlines. It is here that the writing is most effective and Varsani is always a credible pilgrim, who we just know will be rewarded in the end.

Mona Khalili plays Saeed’s caring sister Nazneen in flashback and a health worker in present day Kabul with a delicacy and understanding. She demonstrates a sacrificial strength in Naz’s decision to marry in order for her brother to have enough money to seek asylum in the first place and her gentle portrayal stands in contrast to the abominations of war which have surrounded her for so long.

As straight-talking Afghan politician Rabbia Suzanne Ahmet gets her teeth into a role that is both shocking in its sense of ambition and commendable as she tries to help Saeed in his quest by encouraging him to return to Kabul to work as a doctor with Medicins Sans Frontieres. She earns several of the few laughs in the play through her appetite for power and no nonsense lust for justice for a people weighed down by history and experience.

John O’Mahony manages to make much of his role as Michael, Saeed’s adoptive father, battling with his own loss yet displaying a strength and support for Saeed. It is a shame that his character rather fizzles out as he also deserves the positive ending of a hope-filled play.

Director Helena Bell ensures the pace never slows without allowing the play to shoot off and miss the tender moments. Huge credit to Helen Coyston for an imaginative and realistic set, doubling as a London home and Kabul, with extra praise to Dinah Mullen for an exciting and atmospheric soundscape.

Homing Birds works on many levels: not only is the male character strong and determined as he faces personal, political and realistically tough issues, but Ahmad also introduces gritty women not frightened of speaking out about taboos and provoking debate about arranged child marriage and other controversial concerns involving women.

If the climax is signposted after just a few minutes and everything is wrapped up a smidgeon too easily, this doesn’t prevent Homing Birds being a work of significance and spirited potency,a deep and intelligent examination of people and themes too rarely presented on stage.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Robert Day


Homing Birds

Tara Theatre until 7th December




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Operation Mincemeat

New Diorama Theatre

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat

New Diorama Theatre

Reviewed – 17th May 2019



“With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre”


This is the true story of how a floating corpse kept Hitler off our shores. Set in the Home Office in 1943, the Double Cross Committee is busy brainstorming brilliant plans to win the war – exploding seagulls, spies disguised as flamingos and eavesdropping insects are all among their finest ideas. But the winning gambit involves the corpse of a soon-to-be married young man named Bill, who enjoys cocktails at the Ritz, dinner at the Groucho Club, fine tailoring and, oh yes, he’s not real.

Sitting somewhere between Monty Python and Mission Impossible, SpitLip’s ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is full of catchy numbers, quick wit, and a lot of heart. Each cast member transforms in to a plethora of dimensional characters with a mere hip swagger or a slight pursing of the lips. A lot of fun is had with gender roles and stereotypes, and to great effect.

Felix Hagan’s musical direction also sees a brilliant display of composition, and musical ability from the whole cast: each and every one sings beautifully and, believe it or not, raps like a pro. Special mention goes to Zoe Roberts (playing Bevan among others) whose rhythm is infectious – you feel as though you might accidentally join in. Along with his brilliant physical comedy, Jak Malone also has a heart-breaking falsetto – a surprising yet effective combination.

The set (Helen Coyston) and lighting design (Sherry Coenen) create illusions of a much grander space, illustrated with particular prowess during a hectic split-scene between a big, bawdy cabaret song and dance, and a dark and echoing submarine under threat of attack. With such a small audience and such a big production, it feels like everyone has the best seats in a much bigger theatre.

This production has the feel of something just on the cusp of great success – see it before word gets out and there are no tickets left!


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown 


Operation Mincemeat

New Diorama Theatre until 15th June


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Close Up | ★★★ | February 2018
It Made me Consider | ★★★ | February 2018
Trap Street | ★★★★ | March 2018
Left my Desk | ★★★★ | May 2018
Bitter | ★★★ | June 2018
Taking Flight | ★★★ | June 2018
4.48 Psychosis | ★★★★ | September 2018
Boys | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The War Of The Worlds | ★★★½ | January 2019


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