The Cord

The Cord
Reviewer's rating

This absorbing play looks with a forensic but sympathetic eye at the impact of the birth of a baby on the lives of a loving couple and their families. It is performed by three actors, but there is a fourth person constantly present at the side of the stage – a cellist whose music plays a key role in framing the action and setting the mood. It is an intimate piece that could easily move to a TV screen but works well in the Holloway Theatre at the Bush, laid out as a theatre-in-the-round – so that every member of the audience feels drawn into the verbal exchanges between the players.

Ash and Anya are the new parents facing the usual joys and stresses of coping with a newborn baby. Jane is Ash’s mother and he is concerned about how to ensure that she is as involved as a new grandparent as is Anya’s mother. We gradually learn something about Ash’s early years and how Jane coped when he was a newborn. Gradually the strains of sleeplessness and of the difficulty of comforting a constantly crying baby take their toll on the relationship. Ash and Anya also argue about where to spend Xmas and how much Jane might want to be involved. When a minor crisis occurs the tensions boil over and Ash finds he needs to resolve his own long-buried feelings about the parent-child relationship.

Ash is played by Irfan Shamji and he cuts a sharply etched portrait of a loving father for whom the usual strains of a difficult baby and an emotionally demanding wife take a heavy toll. As his wife Anya, Eileen O’Higgins is by turns motherly to the baby and to her husband until his difficulties in talking about his feelings drive her to despair. Lucy Black is splendid in the difficult role of Ash’s mother  – she offers a facade of calm and good sense but hints all the time that her own memories of difficult experiences of motherhood are seething below the surface. When the crisis comes, there is a blazing and all-too-believable row between Ash and Anya. Ash heads home hoping for sympathy from his mother – it is these scenes that the performances of all three actors reach new intensity.

The set could not be more simple – the central square stage is covered with a cream carpet and there are just three chairs that are moved around by the actors. A fourth chair is occupied by cellist Colin Alexander who provides very brief musical interludes between scenes and occasionally quiet and subtle background music during scenes. It is well judged by him as a composer and by Sheibani who directs his own play. Some of the mimed action sequences, particularly a long car journey, did not quite work for me –As understandably, as (understandably) the baby is represented only by empty cradling arms, there is a real risk of ‘disbelief strain’. I also ended up wondering how an actor playing Anya’s mother might have changed the dynamics.

This is a fascinating drama, both for those of us who remember caring for newborns and for stressed partners, and I assume for those who have not, but can empathise with friends and relatives in such circumstances. I saw the show with my long-term partner, and we had strongly differing opinions about some of the causes of the conflict in the relationship. That says a good deal for the subtlety and balance of the drama and how Sheibani tells his story. Not a night of fun at the theatre but a play that repays careful attention with the chance of a fruitful discussion in the bar afterwards.


Bush Theatre, London.

Writer and Director: Bijan Sheibani

Performers: Lucy Black, Eileen O’Higgins, Irfan Shamji, Colin Alexander

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Until 25 May

Photo credits: Manuel Harlan