Tag Archives: Aline David

Sons of the Prophet

Sons of the Prophet

★★★★

Hampstead Theatre

SONS OF THE PROPHET at the Hampstead Theatre

★★★★

Sons of the Prophet

“The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length”

 

The play opens from the point of view of a car crashing into a stag, quite a mean feat given that we’re watching Sons of the Prophet on Hampstead Theatre’s main stage. It gives us some inkling of the deft way director Bijan Sheibani will take this 11-year-old play by Stephen Karam and bring each line to life, directing but not smothering the actors, to deliver a pitch-perfect production.

Sons of the Prophet centres around the story of gay Lebanese-America Maronite Christian Joseph Douaihy (Irfan Shamji) who is trying to support his family in the wake of his father’s death. We meet his brother Charles (Eric Sirakian) and his uncle Bill (Raad Rawi) as Joseph lies in the hospital waiting for news from the doctor.

Karam writes the family’s dynamics perfectly. The bedside bickering is funny – this is a dark comedy after all – but it’s funny in an exhausting, claustrophobic way. Each family member repeatedly tells each other to stop talking, yet none of them do, and when Joseph puts his arm across his face the audience can feel the waves of stress emanating from him (all compounded by navigating the grim-sounding US healthcare system). Concurrently, Joseph must manage his Uncle Bill’s devout Marronite faith and optimism – “I’m saying be grateful, at least you have your health” – “I don’t have my health, we’re in a doctor’s office because my knees are radiating hot pain!”

Supporting characters propel the story forward as it hurtles towards an end with no resolutions, because that’s what happens to families like Douaihy’s in rural Pennsylvania. It transpires his dad’s car accident was caused by a star of Cedar Crest High School’s football team putting a fake stag in the middle of the road to see who would swerve to avoid it – we meet Vin (Raphael Akuwudike) as he attempts to apologise to the family with a terrible essay. The supporting cast, played by Holly Atkins and Sue Wallace (Physicians Assistant, Ticket Agent etc) are sublime, and both deserve a spin-off show for their extraordinarily well-brought-to-life characters. I would like to watch each of them on stage, for longer.

At points the stage feels like a 21st century Fawlty Towers, as Joseph tries to manage a revolving door of disastrous encounters and people (his horrific boss Gloria, played by Juliet Cowan, who makes everything about her), and news reporter/brief love interest Timothy (Jack Holden) who is desperate to break into the TV bigtime by exploiting the Douaihy family tragedy.

The script feels very polished, and so packed with jokes and one-liners it can sometimes feel like the characters are being held at arm’s length. The actors, with the exception of a few wavering American accents, fly with the lines. Any bumps lie entirely with the script, which feels extremely American, and an interesting choice for Hampstead Theatre in London 2022 (prompting the usual questions, why here, why now?) Perhaps it’s because it’s an omen of what life could become in Britain in the next 10 years under the wrong government hell-bent on privatising the NHS: a stark warning of the extra layers of stress and financial worry that will burden almost every family.

The set design (Samal Blak) is stark and unfussy, with a beautiful use of levels, which helps to tie in all the disparate family elements. Aline David’s movement direction introduces a sense of calmness at times during the show when it’s most necessary.

The play deals with the true sense of what it means to be human, as it revolves around the teachings of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (On Pain, On Passion, On Work, etc). Explicit instructions in the playtext recommend that each character at heart is human – “Gloria may say ridiculous things, but her mannerisms aren’t ridiculous.” Karam calls for the play to be staged in ‘explicitly human spaces’.

The calmness of the final scene, as Joseph meets his kindergarten teacher while he does physiotherapy, is most poignant, and provides respite from his life’s chaos. He confides in her that the last time he was happy was when he was aged four, and although the line is delivered as a joke, there’s a pause from the audience before we laugh, as we all reflect en-masse that life is hard, and at times it can feel like a rolling wheel of disasters.

The play is tight, well-written, superbly acted, and an easy 105 minutes (no interval!) watch. It lifts rather than shatters, and does it with serious humour and a whack of seriously good acting.

 

 

Reviewed on 12th December 2022

by Eleanor Ross

Photography by Marc Brenner

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022

 

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The Arrival

★★★★

Bush Theatre

The Arrival

The Arrival

Bush Theatre

Reviewed – 26th November 2019

★★★★

 

“a play with such vitality at every level that you can only leave the theatre out of breath”

 

A persuasive drama underlining the need to keep siblings together when adoption happens forms the heart of the authoritative The Arrival, receiving its world premiere at the Bush Theatre.

Better known for his hard-hitting direction of such plays as The Brothers Size, A Taste of Honey and Barber Shop Chronicles, Bijan Sheibani turns to writing with this debut one act play, which he also directs.

The confident writing is potent, the nuanced direction robust in this two-hander which takes the simple premise of English Iranian brothers meeting as adults for the first time after one was adopted as a child.

There is, of course, a sting in the tale: the stirring family reunion also opens up years of suspicion, hurt, devastating truths, tension and vulnerability. Questions about nature, nurture and masculinity come to the fore as the brothers, who are little more than strangers to each other, struggle to communicate though they initially get on.

The emotional depth of the encounter is played out in the round on a raised bare circular stage (designed by Samal Blak), which occasionally rotates, so attention is focussed on the lines and performances.

And the two performances perfectly bring the finely written script to life in a breathless succession of short and pithy scenes, meaningful episodes in the lives of two brothers joined together biologically yet worlds apart emotionally. Despite the attributes they share a key part of the play is wondering if they will ever be able to connect deeper down.

There are tense scenes when we witness the physical strength of the two brothers, through cycling, running and dancing though the younger brother is clearly the one less fit of the two, drawing other complexities to the surface.

Scott Karim’s Tom is the arrival of the title, a computer specialist who runs his own business. He is never quite able to shake off the gnawing sense of abandonment by his parents all those years ago, yet is eager to embrace his “new family.” Karim manages to balance the nervous energy of one excitedly rediscovering his past with the tragic realisation that those he left behind have lived their lives pretty happily without him.

On the other side is Irfan Shamji’s Samad, the younger brother who has to adjust to the new situation and who is far less enamoured by the thought of meeting a brother he barely knew about or his family. This brother has had far more opportunities in life (such as public school and a university education) yet is content in his publishing business and anxious about this possible interloper. He is far more uncertain of himself and wary of his brother, but he feels he has more to lose with a possible new rival to family affections.

The two actors dance around each other verbally and physically with a grace and purpose – no wonder there was a need for Aline David as movement director. It is like watching two sparring partners in a boxing ring, each with a reserved respect for the other but both knowing there will come a time to fight and win.

Even though less is more in this play the writing and performances are such that you want it to last longer. It could be argued that the exact reason for Tom’s adoption is never spelt out and this information would be helpful in a piece that often veers towards the enigmatic, but there isn’t really the time to worry about such omissions.

Sheibani’s skill is in taking the domestic crisis and holding up a mirror to a broader view of society and a world scared to explore emotions or be true to ourselves. The audience is left desperately wanting – perhaps even needing – the brothers to understand one another and re-form a part of their lives so sadly missing, but the cruel reality is that the future doesn’t look bright.

The Arrival is a confident and intelligent new work that once again shows off the Bush as a testing ground for fresh drama to be reckoned with. It is a play with such vitality at every level that you can only leave the theatre out of breath.

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Marc Brenner

 


The Arrival

Bush Theatre until 18th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Class | ★★★★ | May 2019
Strange Fruit | ★★★★ | June 2019
Rust | ★★★★ | July 2019

 

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