Jinnistan – Traverse Theatre

Written by Taqi Nazeer

Directed by Niloo Farr Khan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Jinn, or perhaps you’re more familiar with the term Djinn or anglicized and generic term Genie, are beings of near-impenetrable veils, unlikely to ever be seen but always felt. The power and faith behind these pre-Islamic spirits are no less revered or impactful than that of the Catholic demon, or Shinto yokai.

The second play from playwright, and actor Taqi Nazeer, Jinnistan has moved from its Halloween opening at Oran Mor to the Traverse Theatre to conclude Edinburgh’s run of the Play, Pie & Pint season for this year. And is one of the highlight pieces of this year’s season – certainly one of the more unique with the severe lack of horror-based theatre. A South Asian-inspired paranormal piece based on true events, Jinnistan divides itself between a horror-comedy and family drama struggling with relocation, identity, and living between cultures.

Returning to Pakistan in the wake of his mother’s waning health, Malik (Nazeer) brings his wife Layla, played convincingly and with effect by Avita Jay, and their daughter Asiya. But all is not well. And this is before the hauntings begin. Reluctance lies within their teenage daughter Asiya, who struggles with the culture clash of having grown up in Scotland – now finding themselves in Pakistan, away from her friends and beset by local girls who refer to her and her now-deceased grandmother as a ‘witch’. But there’s one person who seems to understand her, a voice calling out from the graveyard where her Grandmother rests. 

Language is weaved gorgeously through the production; a mixture of Urdu and Pakistan-root language with the harsh but comic use of Scots bounces along to heighten the humour and give credence to the more expositional paranormal sequences. The flow between the two feels entirely natural and authentic, Niloo-Far Khan making sure the family-home scenes of this production initially feel like a secure and warm place before they are twisted and distorted.

Stepping into the pages of one’s text often comes with a mess of drudging between mental imagery and physical projection, but playwright Nazeer is entirely at home within the effective Farmhouse staging – bringing a much-needed weight behind the stakes of the supernatural aspects. Elements are undoubtedly rushed within the 50-minute timeframe, meaning to bridge the cultural gap from Pakistan to Scottish audiences, but once Asiya is under the control of the malevolent Jinn, everyone in the audience finds themselves on a similar footing.

This universality of the production’s main elements: family and fear, are what Nazeer taps into is the familiarity of terror, and the shared notion of horror which emanates into Ross Kirkland’s lighting – pushing past the tropes of the story elements, and while never capturing genuine fright, certainly leans into the creative schlock of horror which transcends culture and locale.

Fear of the other builds up barriers. Yet fear of a different ilk, of a shared paranormal experience and unease of the spiritual brings people together. Jinnistan is perhaps this season’s most intriguing piece, and one that (with work) could lead to a tremendously evocative piece of sinister theatre – a rare breed. With an engaging concept, weaving together culture and language, Nazeer’s second play is by most accounts a success and a triumph in waiting. 

A Rare Breed of Sinister Theatre

Jinnistan runs at the Traverse Theatre until November 12th.

Tickets may be obtained here.


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