The Ties That Bind Us

“I feel dead inside . . .

I feel like my head is in a vice.

I feel totally alone.”


Irfan Shamji as Ash. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

I noticed this week a flyer at my local Health Centre advertising classes for “New Dads”.   I have long admired Bijan Sheibani since he directed The Brothers Size  at the Young Vic in 2007 and 2008.  The Cord  is written by him and I think it has to reflect some of his own experience because the play is a deep reflection of the shifting roles and relationships of new parents and their parents. 

Many of us have trauma associated with birth in the past.  We don’t give birth very often so past events have a powerful impact.  My own mother had gone through natural childbirth knowing that her baby had died at full term and my own first pregnancy had brought back to her the fear that history might repeat itself.  So it is with Ash (Irfan Shamji) a new father coming to terms with his traumatised early life as a baby. 

There are four characters in this piece played in the round, Anya (Eileen O’Higgins), Jane (Lucy Black), Ash and a cellist, Colin Alexander, who provides musical punctuation between scenes from the beautifully mournful cello.

The Company. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Watching his mother Jane idolising and cradling his son, Ash fails to get her to talk about her past and why she was separated from him in the early months of his life after she euphemistically fell ill. Jane’s way of coping with her past is not to talk to Ash or Anya but to go for long walks on her own. Most of Ash’s conversations with his mother are on the phone. 

Anya has issues with breastfeeding, their baby is tongue tied and has difficulty latching on and the result for her is swollen breasts full up with milk and painful mastitis.

Ash’s wife, Anya (Eileen O’Higgins) has the support of her own mother whom we never see.  At first there is tension between Ash and Anya about the amount of time spent with his mother as opposed to her mother, especially when the distance away requires a long time driving for two parents already exhausted by disrupted sleep.  Anya’s parents offer to pay for a hotel for Christmas so all three families can be together with the new baby but Ash’s parents refuse the offer.

Eileen O'Higgins as Anya and Irfan Shamji as Ash. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Ash and Anya have difficulty regaining intimacy which the young audience found amusing, obviously not having lived through it themselves.  The baby Louis starts to pick up on the tension between his parents and cries continuously which makes everyone more fraught. 

The only other play I remember with the fine details of a mother’s experience of childbirth was Theatre 503’s Milk and Gall.

The Cord is an unusual play on a subject not often seriously explored in drama as our own history impinges on our present, and special because it is written with the father as the central character.  Men can be marginalised by not being able to breastfeed and expressing milk for them to use a bottle is not a good idea in the early days of establishing breastfeeding. Irfan Shamji is impressive in this role but the women are less rounded.  The acting is convincing, the baby is held and rocked, his head supported with sensitively mimed movement from Aline David. 

Hopefully new parents will be able to get a babysitter in order to see this play but The Bush Theatre could also think about a performance especially for parent and babies. 


Irfan Shamji as Ash. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

The Cord

Written and Directed by Bijan Sheibani



Irfan Shamji

Lucy Black

Eileen O’Higgins

Colin Alexander


Director: Bijan Sheibani

Designer: Samuel Blak

Movement Director: Aline David

Lighting Designer:  Oliver Fenwick

Composer and Sound Dsigner: Colin Alexander

Sound Consultant: Gareth Fry


Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval

Booking to 25th May 2024


The Bush Theatre

7 Uxbridge Rd

Shepherd’s Bush
London  W12 8LJ
Phone:020 8743 5050


Tube Shepherd’s Bush Market

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge 

at the Bush Theatre

on 18th April 2024