In 2004, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti wrote Behzti (Dishonour), a production that in one of Birmingham Rep’s less honourable moments was cancelled after protests from the Sikh community about a rape scene in a place of worship. There will be no protests over this sparky family drama, in which Bhatti returns to the theme of the family and its poisoned legacies that she traced in Khandan, staged at Birmingham Rep and London’s Royal Court in 2014.
It may sometimes have been a struggle, but Deesh (Yasmin Wilde) and her husband Barry (Ezra Faroque Khan) have always put on a good show. They saved every penny to pay for the decking and the private schooling of their two grownup kids, Amy (Raagni Sharma) and Bill (Farshid Rokey). Everyone knows that Barry is a decent man, spending a night a week at the gurdwara.
Now the couple are putting on a birthday party for Amy who is leaving for New York. There will be gallons of cava, a chocolate fountain and a polar-bear ice sculpture. But there will also be Aunty Vira (Sukh Ojla), Deesh’s sister, whom nobody has seen since she left the family home aged 14 when the children were tots. Vira arrives with a sari she can “step into like a onesie” – and with a family secret that Deesh and Barry are desperate to keep hidden.
Elephant is often very funny but is also a serious examination of how women are devalued, how men can be treated as “golden boys” and whether forgiveness and atonement are possible if you refuse to accept you have ever done anything wrong. The children – Amy who despises her own mother, and troubled Bill – are underwritten, and the play stops just when it’s getting interesting as the family are caught between blood ties and truth.
In a play where almost everyone has something to conceal, Lucy Morrison’s pared-back, neatly acted production – played out on Camilla Clarke’s minimalist design – means no one has anywhere to hide when the beans are spilled.