The House Of In Between is a new drama from writer Sevan K. Greene at Theatre Royal Stratford East which is set in a Hijra house in Patna. The word ‘Hijra’ derives from the semiotic root ‘hjr’ according to the programme, which means to leave one’s tribe. Ironically it is within these Hijra houses that a new tribe is formed. Uma, the mother figure of the house (some might say Madam), runs a tight ship marshalling her Hijras between spiritual ceremonies and some light prostitution. Looming in the background is a tragedy from some years ago which has been swept under the rug. The arrival of a young tearaway sets off a chain of events which threatens to unearth the secrets of the past and destroy their ancient way of life.
It really is a family drama and as with any family the tensions of the past rub against its members’ hopes for their futures. Umi, the mother figure who runs the place with a brightly bangle’d fist, is preparing her tribe for an ancient ceremony when the young runaway literally drops into their lives. Her integration into the house causes tensions to tighten which adds pressure to a clan desperately trying to survive despite police protection rackets, a disapproving public and the encroachment of modern business.
The play opens with entrancing choreography and throughout the focus on dance is a great induction into the stories, history and culture of this world. And the world is rendered in blocks and shades through scene changes, projections and lighting effects.
Structurally it feels very classical, almost Shakespearean. Even though it’s quite a long play the performances and quick scenes have enough buoyancy to keep things moving. I feel like I left with a taste of what the ‘Hijra’ culture is and was and how this tradition has a lot of relevance to current conversations about equality.
© John Fitzpatrick 2016