Socialist Worker

The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer

by Beatrice Leal
Issue No. 2084

Nadira Alieva

Nadira Alieva

This play tells the true story of Nadira Alieva, who was a drug runner, teacher and lap dancer in Uzbekistan before she fell for Craig Murray, the British ambassador, and came to Britain with him when he was sacked for exposing government torture.

Put like that it sounds like a cross between John le Carré and Mills & Boon – but don’t be put off, it’s a lot more down to earth than that.

The show is extremely moving in places when Nadira talks about the harsh bits of her life, but she throws in a fair number of jokes too.

The play consists of Nadira talking and dancing alone on stage, with occasional voiceovers from Craig Murray.

She talks about working in a lap dancing club in Uzbekistan, how all the dancers hated and despised the clients – never calling them men, always “meat”.

Then she takes off some of her clothes and dances, and you realise that you and the rest of the audience are now playing the part of the meat.

This is quite unsettling, which I think is the point, although it could be seen as just the traditional “get publicity by including semi‑naked woman” thing. But the fact that the scene feels uncomfortable means that it works and is worth including.

It is shocking (but not really surprising) that when Nadira first arrived in Britain, even though she’s a qualified teacher who can speak five languages, the only work she could find was in a Spearmint Rhino lap dancing club – no better than in Uzbekistan.

In a voiceover Murray talks about discovering that the British and US governments use information from prisoners tortured in Uzbekistan.

This is the one time the wider political situation is mentioned explicitly. Apart from that the play sticks to Nadira’s personal story, but you still feel the menace of the government and police in the background.

The play ends with Nadira saying she wants to go back to Uzbekistan one day to teach drama. There isn’t really a conclusion as such, but there isn’t a conclusion in real life either.

The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer
written by Craig Murray, Nadira Alieva and Alan Hescott
Arcola Theatre, London E8
until 2 February

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Article information

Tue 15 Jan 2008, 17:58 GMT
Issue No. 2084
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