To Faiz from Alys, ‘Dear Heart’ a play by Sam Lathem

Faiz (Sam Lathem) and Alys (Helen Phillips)

Dear Heart, a 25-minute play in English based on the life of Faiz and his wife Alys, and set in the period when he was imprisoned in Pakistan during the early 1950s on treason charges, was staged for the first time on 14 May 2011 in Oxford, England.

The event was organised jointly by Anjuman-e-Adab Oxford, Oxford University Pakistan Society and the Faiz Centenary Celebration Committee UK.

The play was a part of an evening of speeches, performances, and poetry readings celebrating the life and work of Faiz. The play, dramatic and thought provoking was received with rapturous applause and a standing ovation. An imprisoned poet of Punjabi origin writing in the Urdu language of feudal literary sensibility, being visited by Alys, the love of his life, and the mother of their two young daughters – this sort of plot would have risked falling into the trap of sentimentality a la Punjabi/Urdu theatre. But the play steers clear of such a trap and carries the message across in a simple, emotive and subtle way.

The play gives prominence to Alys’ story revealing her courage and power in the Faiz narrative. Her character, played with feeling and expressiveness by Helen Phillips, stands out. Faiz, played by Sam Lathem, displays deftly both the helplessness of a prisoner and steadfastness of a committed poet. The two guards are a pivotal and integral part of the play, particularly when they are required not to speak. The older guard is played with powerful energy and stage presence, by Charanjit Singh. The younger guard is played by Ali Aulia, who manages to reveal a touching transformative journey. In no time the raw intensity of the play takes you to a virtuality, beyond time and space.

Even if one is not familiar with the lives of Faiz and Alys, the play communicates the emotional journey of two people caught in a desperate and traumatic situation who are determined to survive against all odds, the source of their survival – a powerful love for each other. Finally, in the play there are echoes of Faiz’s appeal to a universality in revealing that the guards are also prisoners.

Faiz (Sam Lathem) and prison guards Ali Aulia and Charanjit Singh

Writer/Director Sam Lathem says this about the play
I have been inspired to write Dear Heart with one simple thought – love for the whole world cannot be locked away and forgotten about. Alys Faiz a woman in a new world, armed only with love will fight for all human rights.

I wrote the play, earlier this year, setting it in and around the small cell in which Faiz was imprisoned. This gave me a strong backdrop for the play. Alys had not seen Faiz, for three months, this gave her a strong emotional centre from which I could write. Discovering Faiz, had been tortured by two guards, she first sets about her prison reformation, she then sets about Faiz’s reformation reaffirming his sense of self worth. Faced with a mountain to climb, sorting out the political and personal corruption, she does so armed only with love. The play ends with Alys saying to Faiz that he must be patient, and to keep writing. As she exits, we realize, how strong she has been, and how strong she must be to get her husband released.

Alys has been a footnote in Faiz’s life and at times for far too long. I felt, I needed to shine the light on her, to step out of the shadows of Faiz’s beautiful light and for us to realise there would be no him without her.

- Words and images by Amarjit Chandan

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