“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.
“a richly atmospheric show about memory, community, and what it means to let go.”
The stage area of The Bunker Theatre has been transformed into a neighbourhood pub. With a fully-functioning bar, ‘The Anchor’ is open an hour prior to each performance for drinks and pool. There’s no need to go out to the foyer for a pint during the interval. A pub quiz every Tuesday night after the show, and karaoke every Thursday night, completes the transformation.
Written by Anna Jordan and directed by Chris Sonnex, We Anchor in Hope is a simmering, uneasy piece that reminds us how precarious our footholds are in society’s ever-shifting landscape. Designed by Zoe Hurwitz, The Anchor is a working-class, locals’ pub. It’s an old bastion in its Pimlico neighbourhood, but the play begins on its last day in business. The year is 2016. The referendum has just passed. The owner calls The Anchor a “safe place”, a haven from the madness. But while we may be safe inside, Jordan and Sonnex ensure we’re constantly aware of the tides of change lapping at the doors. The Anchor won’t withstand the relentless waves of gentrification.
The two young bartenders are Pearl (Alex Jarrett) and Bilbo (Daniel Kendrick). Pearl has grown up in bars. She remembers being six years old, colouring in colouring books while her mum flirted at the pool table. Bilbo got his nickname from his love of The Hobbit. Raised in foster homes, the community at The Anchor is the closest thing he’s had to family. Regulars Frank (David Killick) and Shaun (Alan Turkington) are in almost every day. Frank, in his seventies, is a fixture at the pub. He’s seen it change hands from father to son. Shaun works construction during the week, and goes home at the weekends to see his wife and kids. Kenny (Valentine Hanson) owns the pub. It’s been a rough few months for him. His wife left around the same time he was forced to sell The Anchor.
The crew decide to have one last hurrah on The Anchor’s final night. The last of the alcohol needs to be drunk. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.” As the night unfolds, tensions rise, secrets are revealed, and decisions are reached. The five personalities of the play are dynamic and complicated, compellingly brought to life by a talented cast. Killick stands out for his precise portrayal of The Anchor’s own anchor, Frank; Kendrick for his earnest performance of the down-and-out Bilbo.
We Anchor in Hope is largely a character study. It works for the most part, thanks to the vividness of the characters and the strength of the cast. However, the lack of narrative thread can make the show feel long at times. The beginning is slow, and the play takes some time to find its stride. More shape to the story would cut down the instances when the show seems to stall or drift.
Nevertheless, Jordan has skilfully captured the brief sigh of mourning – for the comfort of the status quo, and the nostalgia for the way things were – before the necessity of moving on. This is a working-class story. All communities must adapt with the changing times, but it’s the working classes that are hit the hardest. It’s harder punches they have to roll with, and while it seems clear the crew at The Anchor will survive – they are survivors – they’ll carry the bruises with them.
Jordan, Sonnex, and Hurwitz have created a richly atmospheric show about memory, community, and what it means to let go. Pull up a barstool and join in the bitter celebration for the end of an era.