Review: Cry Havoc at Park Theatre

Inspired by playwright Tom Coash’s time living and teaching in Egypt, Cry Havoc explores the idea of the Western “saviour” through the ill-fated love story of Mohammed (James El-Sharawy) and Nicholas (Marc Antolin). Mohammed is an Egyptian who’s just returned from several days being beaten and tortured in prison. Horrified, his British partner Nicholas instinctively wants to try and fix the situation – initially with cups of tea and first aid, and later by applying to take Mohammed home to England with him, whether he wants to go or not.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

It’s no coincidence that against all logic, the play often feels more like Nicholas’ story than Mohammed’s. The Brit’s tone-deaf response to his lover’s plight places him firmly at centre stage, and consistently reveals a lack of awareness or respect for the country that’s been his home for the past six months. It never occurs to him until the play’s dramatic climax that Mohammed might not want to flee Egypt, or that he might prefer to stay and fight for a better future. Similarly, Nicholas’ slightly surreal encounters with embassy official Ms Nevers (Karren Winchester) have very little to do with the absent Mohammed, and very much to do with their own personal values and motivations.

Though he may be misguided, however, Nicholas isn’t a bad guy; his actions reveal his sense of privilege, but they’re clearly prompted by genuine affection and concern, and as a character he remains very likeable despite his faults. The relationship between the two men is believably played by James El-Sharawy and Marc Antolin, their conversations in Mohammed’s bedroom revealing the intimacy and happy memories they share. But the bruises on Mohammed’s face and the bandage on his hand – along with the recurring question: “What is your relationship with this man?” – are a constant reminder of the prejudice and brutality waiting just outside. For those of us lucky enough to live in a more tolerant society, the idea that a young man can be arrested and beaten just for being gay is difficult to accept – and in that sense, perhaps Nicholas’ reaction isn’t so unreasonable after all.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Under Pamela Schermann’s skilled direction, the play’s relatively short scenes run smoothly from one to the next through simple black-outs. Though the embassy scenes take place away from Mohammed’s flat, it’s always there in the background, with the focal point of Emily Bestow’s set a pair of bloody handprints on the wall behind the bed. These are not, as we and Nicholas first assume, a sign of violence but of religious devotion – just one more cultural misunderstanding in a play that’s full of them.

Cry Havoc is a far quieter and more contemplative play than its title suggests; with the exception of its penultimate scene there’s little drama, and the closest we get to dogs of war are the ones barking outside Mohammed’s building. That said, there is a sense of building tension throughout as the two lovers find themselves repeatedly at odds over their future, and this discord shines a new light on the well-worn subjects of immigration and asylum. It’s a thoughtful, challenging and extremely well acted play, and definitely worth a visit.

Cry Havoc is at Park Theatre until 20th April.

Review: Threads at The Hope Theatre

On the surface, David Lane’s Threads appears to be a standard break-up drama. Five years after she left him, Charlie (Samuel Lawrence) has finally managed to track down Vic (Katharine Davenport) and convinced her to come and visit him at their old flat. Vic’s moved on – new home, new job, new relationship – while Charlie’s struggling; he hasn’t left the flat for several years, but we’re about to discover that’s the least of his worries.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Because there’s much more to Threads than meets the eye, and Lane waits just the right amount of time for us to relax before casually taking the story in a new and decidedly unsettling direction. It turns out Charlie’s not just feeling a bit low; his life has quite literally stopped moving forward (I’ll leave it there for fear of spoilers). And Vic isn’t doing all that well herself – for all her protestations of “resolve”, the wall she’s consciously built around Charlie in her memory is crumbling before our eyes, as is the image she projects to the world of her perfect new life. At the centre of the play is the metaphor of threads that connect us to each other, and the impossibility of simply severing those cords and walking away when a relationship comes to an end.

Like the story, Jo Jones’ set takes the mundane setting of Charlie’s flat, complete with the sort of things you’d expect – armchair, kitchen, window – but adds a touch of Frankenstein-esque gothic weirdness to keep us on our toes. The dingy room gives off the vibe of a mad scientist’s workshop, and electric cables hang from the walls and ceiling and creep across the furniture, occasionally glowing with a crackling energy as the couple’s simmering, unresolved passion threatens to boil over. (I kept half expecting them to come to life and start moving on their own, but was very glad they didn’t; that way nightmares lie.)

That same energy also radiates from the actors, neither of whom seem able to keep still as they restlessly cover every inch of the space. Samuel Lawrence is jittery and anxious from the start, stammering and raising his voice in frustration at his inability to make Vic believe what he’s going through. Katharine Davenport, on the other hand, starts out cool, calm and collected – but there’s a rising tension as her defences begin to fall, and the explosion when it comes is unexpectedly fierce. The two initially appear to have little in common, yet there are shared moments of tenderness as they reflect on a memory or private joke, and it’s in these moments that we can appreciate what they once had together.

Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli

Director Pamela Schermann keeps up the intensity throughout, aided by light and sound design from Rachel Sampley and James Scriven, which are effective but not intrusive and allow our focus to remain on the human drama unfolding just inches away. The intimate Hope Theatre lends itself perfectly to this play, drawing us right inside the living room and holding us there just as it does Vic. By the end of the 70 minutes we’re left feeling exposed, and drained by the emotion of seeing laid bare an experience most of us will have gone through in some way during our lives, but may not have been able to articulate.

Threads is a highly original and unpredictable piece of theatre that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. It deals in metaphors without trying to be too clever, and remains a gripping human drama – whilst also providing plenty of food for thought for the train home.


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