Theatre Review: The House Of In Between

A fearless insight into the world of desi in-betweeners, otherwise known as Hijras…

Posted: 20.04.16

Anyone who has been to South Asia would have encountered their first meeting or sighting of a Hijra. As a child visiting family in Pakistan, a group of Hijras came to my Aunt’s house to bless my cousin’s newborn baby. I found the whole thing very confusing – what on earth were these rather different looking women with strange deep voices, singing and clapping in a distinct fashion doing here? My innocent questions were answered with frowns and ambiguity – they are women, I was told. But that’s not what my cousins told me. Showing at Theatre Royal Stratford East, The House Of In Between provides an enlightening and rare glimpse into the secret, shunned world of modern-day Hijras, riddled with shame, taboo and mystery, whilst desperately trying to maintain their values, traditions and beliefs, amidst a fragile and vulnerable environment.

The play explains how Hijras are neither male nor female and have recently been legally recognised as a third gender in India. Some are intersexed which is a rare phenomenon, although some are males who choose to be castrated in a ritual called nirvaan. The Hijra clan has been documented for centuries, known as eunuchs, given various duties throughout history, such as guarding the royal harems of bygone empires.

Writer Sevan K. Greene and Director Pooja Ghai, who is also TRSE’s Associate Director, have attempted to shed light on common misconceptions and assumptions about this clan. The play focuses on Uma, as head of a modern day house of Hijras and touches upon various aspects of their lives, including what it means to be a Hijra, the process involved, the different kinds of Hijra and explores the blurred lines between their definitions of sexuality and intimacy. However, their carefully maintained existence is soon in turmoil, following the arrival of the suspiciously awkward Dev, believably played by Lucie Shorthouse.

Esh Alladi does a fine job of portraying Uma, with his commanding voice, steely stare and proud poise, instilling fear in the Hijras of the clan, ensuring they don’t go against her word. Despite the disdain and contempt held against Hijras, it’s interesting to see how important pride is to Uma. Hijras don’t like to live up to the lowered expectations of society – they may not be deemed respectable, but they are determined to live respectfully in the eyes of their community.

Gary Wood delivers an impressive performance as the fiery Shakti, with his convincing elegant dance moves, sultry thumkas and seductive eyes. The portrayal of Amrita was carried out superbly by Ashraf Ejjbair, perfectly fulfilling her hazy state, flirty demeanour and overtly sexy persona, whilst adding welcome humour and wit, in what could have become a dark tale.

Highlights included Seeta Patel’s beautiful choreography, executed with precision and grace, whilst the dramatic music created an impact in the right places. The thoughtful and authentic looking props, usage of moveable sets, projective lighting and silhouettes were artfully done, contributing to the storytelling, drama, emotion and entertainment.

At first, it is quite a scene to behold, witnessing non-Asian men dressed up as Hijras and you can’t help but admire them for taking up the challenge. Yet as the story unravels and draws you in, they successfully fool you into believing in their portrayals, as you find that you’re no longer questioning whether they are men or women, white or Asian. They are struggling Hijras, living in The House of In Between.

The play reveals how fiercely protective Hijras are of their identity – they would rather live proudly being true to who they are, than succumb to accepted conventions. A twist in the tale reveals how seriously they consider their rules, and when someone goes against their rules, the drastic consequences that await them…

The House Of The In Between runs from 8 April-30 April 2016.
To book tickets call the Box Office on 020 8534 0310, or visit

Review by Fariha Sabir 

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