Out of Sorts
Reviewed – 14th October 2019
“Samal’s smart, insightful script cares deeply about its characters”
Out of Sorts is the winner of Theatre503’s International Playwriting Award 2018. Written by Danusia Samal, it tells the story of Zara, a young woman caught between two cultures. Raised Muslim in London, when Zara got to university she quickly learned to adapt in order to fit in with her overwhelmingly white classmates. Now living with her best friend and flatmate Alice, Zara is the typical millennial: she parties, she drinks, and she wants more from life than marriage to a Muslim man. On the other hand, when she visits her family, she reverts to the good Muslim daughter, wearing her hijab at dinner and saying the prayers. On the surface it may seem that Zara has it all worked out, and it’s simply a matter of code switching. But the truth is that identity is messy, and the stress of being split in two this way, between two worlds, neither of which fully accept her, has its cost.
Directed by Tanuja Amarasuriya, Out of Sorts is a heartfelt story of identity and belonging. Samal’s smart, insightful script cares deeply about its characters, all of whom are layered and complicated. Samal shows impressive skill in her ability to balance lightness in her writing with the heaviness of her subjects. The play, which confronts racism, privilege, mental health, and eating disorders, is also touching, delightful, and laugh out loud funny. And although the script may allow itself a few too many speeches, the show never feels long.
Myriam Acharki (Layla, Zara’s mother), is particularly deft in her grasp of her character’s sadness and pain, but also her quite sly sense of humour. Nayef Rashed (Hussein, Zara’s father), likewise brings much of the comedy to the play. Oznur Cifci nails the part of Zara’s sharp-witted, ‘hood rat’ little sister Fatima. Nalân Burgess (Zara) gives a good portrayal of someone barely holding things together. Emma Denly (Alice) is spot on as Zara’s well-intended but privileged and condescending flatmate. Claudius Peters (Anthony) is earnest and convincing as Alice’s boyfriend, who is unfortunate enough to get caught in the avalanche of the girls’ collapsing relationship.
The show has one set, which is used to portray both Zara and Alice’s upmarket flat, and Zara’s family’s council estate flat. What may seem like not an ideal choice, made to accommodate Theatre503’s small space, works better than you might think. A change in lighting (Ali Hunter) is surprisingly effective in morphing the atmosphere. The characters from Zara’s two worlds often overlap in the room, which suggests that perhaps Zara isn’t doing as well as she thinks at keeping her two identities apart.
Out of Sorts makes a powerful argument for open and truthful communication, no matter how difficult it may be. All of Zara’s secrets that she keeps from her friends and family, and her attempt to handle her problems alone, result in a huge mess, both literally and figuratively. The play is clever in getting us to re-examine our own perspectives, and remember that what we see of someone’s life is never the full story. Samal is loving, perceptive, and precise in her championing of people from two cultures who feel like they don’t belong to either. It’s important now more than ever to centre stories like Zara’s. Don’t miss this hugely enjoyable, eye-opening show.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Helen Murray
Out of Sorts
Theatre503 until 2nd November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: