Review: Screens (Theatre503)

Stephen Laughton’s play about being an asylum seeker post-Brexit packs a punch


The 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus shaped life for mother Emine and her two children Ayşe and Al, and though the fighting hardly lasted a month, it continues to affect their life in Harlow. This latest show at Theatre503 is about personal and national identity, smartphone culture, and a dead cat in a shopping bag.

Screens tells the story of one night where Al makes his first foray into the gay dating scene, and the whole family deals with uncovering a family truth about their heritage. Stephen Laughton's story is gripping, gritty and plays out on a personal level. Ayşe feels like she is in the middle of a Venn diagram – "one circle British, one Turkish, another Muslim" – before it is all ripped from under her feet. Al's date Ben forces him into an outburst because he won't reveal more about his "interesting" Cypriot background. As Ben learns more about the everyday treatment of asylum seekers, so do the audience.

The design of the production is simple – nothing but three black walls with a white strip about 6ft high that circles the perimeter. Around the walls, the screens of the characters' phones are projected: the dick pics appearing on Al's Grindr; the selfies Ayşe posts on Instagram; the pivotal email that changes everything for mother Emine. It's clever and used to great effect – it means the story can be told in real-time and paced naturally without the need to pause and explain what has happened on the phones. It needs some refining – some posts "trend" next to an Instagram logo (things don't trend on Instagram) – but it's ambitious and impressive.

It's relevant and up-to-date; the script references to Brexit and "Darth Mayder" as our PM. At one point, a Poké Ball rolls across the screen as a character plays the game on their phone (even theatre can't escape it). It's these touches that make Screens feel real, but the ending relies on an out of place metaphor this story simply doesn't ask for.

It's a play needs to be seen in an intimate space like Theatre503. An audience of barely 60 watch a family full of love, deceit and guilt as if we are peering through their living room window. We watch the escalation of an awkward first Grindr date at a service station on the M11 as if we too are sat beside them.

There is nothing but solid performances from this cast of five, but as brother and sister Al and Ayşe,
Declan Perring and Nadia Hynes stand out – they're passionate, angry and lost. They're at the heart of this thought-provoking, eye-opening play that tells a story often not heard, that needs to be told.

Screens runs at Theatre503 until 3 September.