Tales from the embassy

If ambassadors are men sent abroad to lie for their country, what does that make their mistresses? Women forced to act like broads and lie under other countries' diplomats, perhaps?Yet the story of Nadira Murray, the now wife of our one time man in that Central Asian anti-pleasure dome, Uzbekistan, is a genuinely harsh and compelling one.

PULSE Fringe Festival 08: The British Ambassador's Belly Dancer, Sir John Mills Theatre, Jun 13th.

If ambassadors are men sent abroad to lie for their country, what does that make their mistresses? Women forced to act like broads and lie under other countries' diplomats, perhaps?

Yet the story of Nadira Murray, the now wife of our one time man in that Central Asian anti-pleasure dome, Uzbekistan, is a genuinely harsh and compelling one. It successfully mixes the unpleasant realities of a woman's lot under a grotty dictatorship with raw sexual humour - frequently directed at her spanking-loving spouse. He can't mind much, though, as he co-wrote the play with her and one other contributor.

As performed by Mrs Murray herself and told with minimal props, an unchanging black background and simple lighting, this is an unblinking account of an incredible personal trajectory that involves a beloved but periodically violent father, rape at the hands of various Uzbek rozzers and ridicule from the geopolitically-ignorant British media.


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The title of the work reflects the last group's dismissal of her as a shallow but exotic wife stealer. First impressions - both from the promotional images and the opening of the play - which resonates to suitably 'orientalist' music - appear to deliberately concur with this conceit.

Yet music and 'bellydancing' provides the milestones which measure Nadira's resourceful survival and progress. This takes her from the Tashkent nightclub where she first meets Ambassador Murray (a piece of 'wet' meat in the local trade talk) through to a single night pole dancing to make ends meet in the UK to her final dance as a free human being.

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After a slightly stilted and hesitant start, Nadira Murray delivered her lines with a commanding intensity and naturalness. The description of the couple's depression and despair once Murray had been sacked from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for his championing of human rights in Uzbekistan coupled with the threat of her deportation was deeply moving.

On this evidence, Mrs Murray is an actress with an impressive potential. I'd be intrigued by her next choice of role, especially if that means her embracing material outside of the purely autobiographical.

So much so, I wonder if aside from the theatre, a career in that other stage full of artifice - diplomacy - beckons?

Paul Simon

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