Behind the Beautiful Forevers, David Hare’s new play adapted from Katherine Boo’s book of the same title and directed by Rufus Norris, is set in the slumps of Mumbai, in the shadow of big hotels and the international airport. As with all stories with a strong sense of place, it opens up to universal understanding. I immediately saw its relevance, even though I can’t speak of its authenticity. (Shamefully my experience of Mumbai and its slumps is limited to watching Slumdog Millionaire. Which is no experience at all). On the other hand, the feel of the play authenticates against itself: it’s a real world. And not a happy one.
It’s easy to say the play is grim, more difficult to explain why. Grim is the wrong word. It creates tension between the energy of the place (high-octane, outspoken, confident) and perceptions (or preconceptions) of the situation: the darkness isn’t due to poverty (that would be patronising) nor the awful things happening throughout the story. Poverty is ever present but lack of resources doesn’t equal lack of resilience, not always, and these people are nothing if not resilient. But, and this is the astonishingly grim fact, poor and rich have learned the same wrong lesson. Learned it in different ways (the rich with a silver spoon in their mouth, the poor with a kick in the teeth) but the same lesson nevertheless: the road to happiness involves screwing other people. This dark thought pollinates small sins and tragedy multiplies. Continue reading