Review: Cry Havoc (Park Theatre)

Tom Coash’s play stars Marc Antolin and James El-Sharawy

James El-Sharawy and Marc Antolin
James El-Sharawy and Marc Antolin
© Lidia Crisafulli

Tom Coash's snapshot of forbidden love in the Middle East is over in a flash, but it's played out with passion, and it even contains an antidote to the typical narrative about immigration. Cry Havoc flips on its head the assumption that any person from a developing country – let alone a gay person – should automatically want to abandon their home and move to Brilliant Blighty to drink cups of tea.

Nicholas (Marc Antolin), a poetry-loving British academic, visits Cairo and enters a secret relationship with local man Mohammed (James El-Sharawy). The action begins with Mohammed bloodied and bruised; he's been tortured by the authorities for his alleged 'unnatural' acts. What's more, he faces shame in his family and community. Although supposedly a worldly man, Nicholas is shocked at it all.

For the African, the struggle is real; for the powerful Brit, well, his impulse is to come in and fix stuff. The 80-minute story sees Nicholas trying to secure a British visa for his new "office assistant". But it's a process about which Mohammed is pessimistic and wary. Not only is he a proud Egyptian, but his instinct is fight over flight, and he wants to right wrongs in his homeland by means of revolution.

While the context is not explicit, it's easy to imagine this occurs just before the Arab Spring. Coash says the play was informed by his own naivety in Egypt – and Nicholas is certainly an embodiment of that trait. He is a colonial clod, dismissive of the host culture. And Antolin makes him sound less like an aspiring poet, more like an aspiring Alan Partridge ("I threw up in the back of a taxi once in Chipping Sodbury") or a mad parliamentary candidate ("we've got too many keys in England").

Mohammed cuts a stoical, noble figure by contrast, and the two men's differences make the direction of the story fairly guessable. Will he stay in Cairo or will he go? In the end you sense it's not really a case of whether he feels pushed into leaving, but whether or not he can allow himself to be rescued by an imperial overlord.

"In Egypt, I can't be me," Mohammed wails in one of the liveliest moments. "Anywhere else, I can't be Egyptian." His dilemma is shared by LGBT people all over the world who are persecuted yet remain patriotic. With a tender touch, Coash melds political and personal into a raw play; one which reflects on modern Britain as much as it does on Egypt. Cry Havoc is also worth a look for a compelling performance from Karren Winchester – as the fearsome immigration official, Ms Nevers.