Monday, 17 April 2017

Review Ready Or Not

Carolin Kopplin finds a new play by a Bruntwood Prize-winning playwright touches on urgent issues of isolation and community in the age of social media.

Ready or Not
by Naylah Ahmed

Virtual Truth

When a young man knocks on the door of a retired primary school teacher in a British suburb, he little expects to be lured into a home-made torture cell.

Yusuf (Adam Karim), a Muslim, is collecting signatures for a petition against drone warfare. His captor, Pat (Joan Blackham), has seen news of yet another terrorist attack, this time in the German city of Frankfurt am Main.

One of the perpetrators has supposedly fled to the UK and Pat immediately suspects Yusuf to be one of "them".

This political thriller by Naylah Ahmed deals with how "We have to be vigilant" can mutate into violent paranoia fuelled by the bubble of social media and "alternative facts".

Blinded by her addiction to the internet, fake news and her own anti-Muslim prejudice, Pat puts her thoughts into action by taking Yusuf as her hostage.

She interprets his refusal to eat her oxtail soup, along with his traditional garb, to be further proof of his guilt. She destroys his mobile phone with her cricket bat and pours the oxtail soup over his head.

Yusuf remains admirably calm and tries to reason with his captor, to make her see him as a fellow human being: "There aren't just ISIS and western warmongers, there's stuff in between".

There is humour in these exchanges but, under the circumstances, they do not come across as particularly funny, even if one views the play as a dark comedy.

As Pat and Yusuf debate terrorism and security, drone warfare and collateral damage, Pat's temper occasionally flares up and she turns to home-made torture instruments, including a bowl of dishwater, to get back at Yusuf.

Some of the argument seems rather stilted even though valid points are made. Yet Yusuf's memories of growing up with the sense of being an unwanted stranger in his own country does feel very real as is Pat's antagonism towards people who do not conform to her narrow ideas of being British.

The play raises some very important questions but Helena Bell's production lacks tension and cohesion. The intense dialogue between Yusuf and Pat is interrupted by video projections with voiceovers, featuring letters from Pat's late son Jack, from whom she was estranged, that were never sent.

Just when there seems to be some kind of rapport between the two characters, their conversation is interrupted by an interval that precedes the arrival of a third character.

Jack's girlfriend Holly (Natasha Rickman) enters. Whilst Yusuf is locked up in the cellar, the focus shifts to the relationship between Pat and Holly, bickering about Jack's letters.

Joan Blackham convinces as Pat, now grieving as she lives cut off by choice, her life ruled by the internet and fake news. Adam Karim gives an engaging performance as outgoing Yusuf, eager to communicate with people to reach a better understanding.

Sophia Lovell Smith's set is very plain, a domestic space where a person just exists, not really lived in or cherished as a home. Although the voiceover and letters disrupt the trajectory of the play, Daniel Denton's video design is skilful.

This is an intriguing drama raising vital issues. Even if the playwright would have done better to keep the focus on Yusuf and Joan without an interval, it's an amber/green light for a thought-provoking evening.

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