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Review: The Chosen Haram at the Seymour Centre (Sydney Festival)

Review by Rosie Niven

In Islamic faith, the word haram refers to two things: either something so sacred it cannot be accessed by those not deemed pure enough; or something considered so sinful or evil that it is forbidden to be done. In the case of Sadiq Ali’s The Chosen Haram, it is the forbidden action of homosexuality that he must wrestle with - homosexuality is defined as a sin in Islam, and embracing his true self means walking away from a faith that he is so deeply ingrained in.

The Chosen Haram follows two men who meet on a dating app, soft sparks turning quickly to fireworks as they plunge headfirst into their own love story. But the constant conflicts of faith seemingly rip these men apart as Ali comes to terms with the fact that he can choose only one part of himself - his relationship with his Islamic faith or his identity as a gay man. Choosing the supposed haram, the work explores the impossibility of leaving part of yourself behind in favour of another, and how quickly those contrasting identities can destroy you.

Performed by Ali and his counterpart Hauk Pattison, The Chosen Haram takes places in two spaces: the vast floor of the relatively empty York Theatre stage, except for some furniture to represent a home and two large fans; and two imposing Chinese poles, the latter of which dominate the space and allow these performers to take to new heights as they explore this troubled story. Sound Designer Guy Veale and Composer Kester Hynds work together to create powerful, almost haunting music that create and fill the voids of Ali’s painful journey, and Lighting Designer Kamoe Heseltine envelops the performers in spirited lighting that seems to invite Ali into some form of heaven - first in his prayers, then his embrace of his sexualiy, then the unstoppable feeling he gets from drugs.  

Ali and Pattison’s bodies share endless stories without uttering a word. Through their mastery of physical performance and circus, they explore themes of religion, sexuality and addiction, each one more rich than the last. The pair are dynamic together, their bodies intricately intertwined as they spin, climb and float effortlessly across the poles. An act that requires incredible strength feels weightless as their love story unfolds.

The Chosen Haram is not just Ali’s story - it is the story of other LGBTQ+ ex-Muslims who shared parts of themselves during the development of this work, and it is the story of those who never got a chance to share these parts of themselves at all. It is a brave and painful work that examines the intricacies of faith and sexuality, and how the freeing feeling of choosing to embrace your identity is not as easily attainable for many queer people of faith. When your religion defies the core of who you are, how do you move forward?

Image Supplied


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