Tag Archives: Waleed Akhtar

The P Word

The P Word

★★★

Bush Theatre

THE P WORD at the Bush Theatre

★★★

The P Word

“To see the moments of queer joy that are portrayed here is truly a pleasure”

 

The P Word, written by Waleed Akhtar, finds itself caught in the space between a two hander and a series of monologues. The play remains grounded, however, by its layered character and their wit.

Bilal, played by Akhtar, details to the audience his experiences as a British Pakistani man in the gay dating scene. He lets his prejudices, fatphobia and islamophobia in particular, be known early on, as well as sources of their internalization. Zafar, played by Esh Alladi, arrives onstage mid-trauma: engaged in an unsuccessful bid to seek asylum in the UK, his partner murdered, his life endangered by a homophobic father were he to be deported to Pakistan. The play only kicks into gear, however, when the two characters bump into one another in the middle of Soho during Pride.

The set, designed by Max Johns, is minimal and elegant. A raised, circular, rotating platform, carries the characters temporally through the play. Each half of the platform tilts in the opposite direction, and LED light illuminates the outline of each semicircle, enclosing Bilal and Zafar in their disparate experiences for the first half of the play. Small compartments built into the set facilitate quick changes, allowing both actors to remain onstage for the duration of the play. These transitions, however, can feel rushed, more marked than they are performed.

Before Bilal and Zafar meet, they communicate exclusively in parallel monologue. Most of the unseen characters in Zafar monologues—a stranger, his mother, a healthcare worker—make their presence known through voiceover. Akhtar steps outside of Bilal’s character with more regularity, voicing his hookups and co-workers, lending his monologues the quality of a one-person show. This particular directorial choice by Anthony Simpson-Pike could be intended to further distinguish Bilal and Zafar’s narratives, but it results in a garbled theatrical language. The formal discrepancy, along with the duration of the parallel monologue sections, lends a dragging and uneven quality to the first half of the play, despite strong performances from Akhtar and Alladi.

Even after Bilal and Zafar have had their chance encounter and begin to share scenes, these parallel monologues persist. The two characters frequently break from engaging moments of dialogue to speak directly to the audience, halting the pace of the second half. The P Word finds its emotional core within the extended and mostly uninterrupted scenes between Bilal and Zafar. Bilal confronts his internalized prejudices, while Zafar begins to heal from the murder of his partner, Haroon. These scenes are both tender and emotionally fraught, blissfully banal and high stakes. To see the moments of queer joy that are portrayed here is truly a pleasure.

In The P Word’s final moments, following a somewhat sensationalized and romanticized conclusion, the world of the play briefly cracks. Though the break seems to be inspired by works such as Jackie Sibblies Dury’s ‘Fairview’, it reads more like an admission than it does a true confrontation, inadvertently letting the audience and performance off the hook.

 

 

Reviewed on 14th September 2022

by JC Kerr

Photography by Craig Fuller

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

 

Favour | ★★★★ | June 2022
Lava | ★★★★ | July 2021

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

Shadows

What Shadows

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 7th October 2017

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

“shadowy symbolism echoes throughout this production”

 

Roxana Silbert’s envisaging of Chris Hannan’s intensely cerebral well-made play is pacey, slick and satisfying. A very strong cast support one another constantly, keeping the drama taut, which is difficult with a script which occasionally forays into pure, oratorical debate, rather than writing which craves a stage. The play opens with a crash of thunder, and the shadowy symbolism echoes throughout this production, which manages to be both poetically haunting and true to life.

Shadows

Ian McDiarmid’s Enoch Powell is riveting. His mental and physical deterioration, and Rose Cruikshank’s progression in conviction, culminating in their meeting, are arcs which poignantly interlock. McDiarmid brought the light and shade of humility to the character, complexifying his identity. Tracing Cruikshank’s younger life chipped away at her hardened academic exterior. The closing bartering between Powell and Cruikshank was moving, bringing to life all the thought with which this script is so laden. Amelia Donker played Rose formidably, but a little more softness to earlier dialogue would have made her later displays of vulnerability less of a snap transition.

Nicholas Le Provost’s stage presence was masterful. He spoke with grace and moved with ease, whilst managing to encapsulate the nervous below-the-surface energy of a journalist making risky choices. Highest commendation must go to Paula Wilcox and Joanne Pierce. Their multi-roling was a wonder to behold. The combination of subtlety with careful poise, the consideration in every gesture, turn of phrase and lilt of voice was really rather inspiring. At points, they elevated the piece to levels of excellence. Waleed Akhtar and Ameet Chana were similarly skilled, bringing a tantalising mixture of humour to their roles, whilst portraying an undercurrent of a wider, deeper narrative. Sultan’s cry, ‘I’ve fallen in love with England’ is, on the surface, endearingly uncomplicated: and therein lies the irony of What Shadows.

Shadows

Ti Green’s clever design – tall model trees standing like skeletons at the back of the stage – coupled with Chahine Yavroyan’s inventive lights and Louis Price’s video projections, making rain and a party atmosphere, created the flitting, shadowy ambiguity needed for the play to be compelling theatrically as well as intellectually. If anything, more time could have been spent with the characters dwelling in the shadows. Giles Thomas’ sound design was particularly effective in scene changes, charging the drama forwards.

Occasionally, the direction felt a little contrived, particularly during Powell’s speech, when the cast entered and exited on a clear cue in the script. And when Rose is supposedly on the precipice of a building, only sound communicated this, as there was little impression created by the actors of danger. But holistically, this production is well-realised and especially apt for now. To quote one of its many aphorisms, ‘By the time you’ve described today it’s tomorrow’ – so go and see it today, before it’s not on tomorrow.

 

Reviewed by Eloïse Poulton

Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic

 

 

WHAT SHADOWS

is at The Park Theatre until 28th October

 

 

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