If you hear a terrible row next door, followed by clear evidence of brutal violence, what do you do? When is the right moment to intervene? And by so doing, are you helping the victim or salving your own conscience?
These are the questions posed by Tamsin Oglesby’s ambitious but slight (only eighty minutes running time) new play, and the situation of neighbourly conflict is clearly intended to run a metaphorical parallel with the American and British intervention in Iraq. The missing element, of course, is that sorting out domestic violence is in no way truly comparable to military action with a clear political objective, despite director Nicolas Kent’s best efforts to escalate the stage temperature in the climactic conflagration.
The sleek, minimalist, neutrally expensive-looking design by Libby Watson presents two adjacent London homes and gardens, where Ali and Hana, of unspecified Middle Eastern origins, are locked in a culture clash with Max and Soph, a do-gooding, pot-smoking barrister and his nude-bathing, environmentally pre-programmed wife.
While Max struggles with the assembly instructions of an eco-loo (no doubt inspired by Ken Livingstone’s grisly admission that he only pulls his own mayoral lavatory chain when he really has to), Soph (Lorraine Burroughs) blathers on about solar panels and whether or not a prostitute can be raped (she can be, apparently, if she’s off duty).
Max (David Michaels) shares a roll-up of his own home-grown marijuana with the thuggish, bull-necked Ali (Jonathan Coyne) and before long Ali is selling the stuff on and inflaming his image-conscious neighbour. Bruised and battered Hana (Badria Timini), who is employed as a cleaner by Max and Soph, is pregnant. When the baby duly arrives the violence is stepped up in graphic mime sequences. Bobby (Sonny Muslim), Ali’s son by a first marriage, disconsolately shoots pigeons from the sky before punching his own step-mother on the nose.
It is all a bit contrived and emotionally hollow, but once you cotton on to the loose, doggerel-style rhyming of the dialogue, you realise that Oglesby is constructing a dramatic diagram rather than a pungently involving play.
Violence of course returns home, and eventually Max punches Soph on the nose, too (I felt like doing so quite a bit earlier on, I confess), but he maintains his public image of decency by moving in next door with Hana. Here, the whole caboodle stutters to a false conclusion, with Bobby fire-bombing his own home, Soph flying in on an upright hospital bed and wondering why the sky is red tonight as the stage is consumed in flames.
This is dodgy dramaturgy and dodgier political point-scoring: the Tricycle and its director, well-known Blair-bashers, are only too keen to suggest that intervention born of good intentions will result in apocalyptic catastrophe. Good for them, but not all that good for the theatre at large.
- Michael Coveney