Karen Bartke and Umar Ahmed in My Name Is... Photograph: Helen Maybanks
Karen Bartke and Umar Ahmed in My Name Is… Photograph: Helen Maybanks

When, in 2006, 12-year-old Gaby left her Glasgow home to live with her father in Pakistan, the media rushed to conclude that she had been kidnapped by her “fundamentalist” father to be a “child bride”, in a neat example of Islam vs the West. But the drama took a turn after Gaby declared she wished to remain with her father and be known as Ghazala, and the media then quickly turned on her Glaswegian mother as “unfit” and “mentally unstable”.

My Name Is… takes a sympathetic and nuanced look at the story behind these tiresome tropes. Writer Sudha Buchar recorded interviews with Gaby/Ghazala and her parents, basing the play on her transcripts and skillfully interweaving all three voices into this authentic and moving work.

The result is focused less on the drama that attracted the attention of the media, and more on the story of the relationship between Gaby/Ghazala’s parents, Suzy/Sajida and Farhan, from the trance of their young dreams in 1980s Glasgow to an angry separation years later, in which Gaby’s disappearance is the climax of an absorbing, if sad, tale.

The set is split into two locations throughout – Suzy alone in her flat and Farhan and Gaby/Ghazala in a Pakistani villa, a device which allows their individual narratives to interact with each other, and as they later divide, for the two or even three voices to quite literally compete to be heard.

My Name Is… has little to say about global, or even national politics. It is about complex and shifting identities and the ways in which the immediate realities of racial prejudice and the expectations of family and community put pressure on individual relationships. While the news headlines focused on Gaby/Ghazala’s story, the play’s title could easily refer to her mother, who changed her name and religion for the sake of her husband, later accusing him: “You took Suzy and you made Sajida and you controlled her strings…” In fact, at times it feels as if the play is more her story than her daughter’s.

The performances by all three actors are excellent, with Karen Bartke especially compelling as Suzy/Sajida. Despite the extraordinary features of the story, this play is essentially about the struggle to make family life work and the difficulties faced by children caught between two separated parents. My Name Is… looks beyond the melodramatic and sensationalist headlines and paints a sensitive portrait of everyday family breakdown.

My Name Is… is at the Arcola Theatre, 4 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL until 24 May

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