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Review: Mother of Kamal at Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre

Review by Olivia Ruggiero 

Mother of Kamal is an incredibly current and relevant new work despite the fact it’s predominately set in 1940’s Iraq. It’s commentary on the treatment of Jewish people; the division of state; racial, cultural, and religious prejudice is remarkable as we reflect on the state of our world and the goings-on around the globe. 

The theatre Upstairs at the Gatehouse is an enchanting space, a theatre in the thrust with exceptional technical capabilities. It’s cosy and intimate and should provide the perfect setting for a play that’s message is so profound. However, it’s not used to its full capabilities in this instant. The direction completely ignores the sides of thrust and plays as though the show is in a traditional set up, stopping the experience from being completely immersive. Further to this some of the direction seems a little odd – in-between scenes there are often weird, semi-choregraphed movements with furniture or props that seem to have little connection to the story, and the movement is quite “contemporary” in style, so therefore not relating back to the Jewish or cultural background of the story. The direction succeeds in splitting the space into two sides, where we often see the brother’s lives playing out in parallel, as they are separated by distance and life experiences, the use of the vast space is clever in this way. 

Nalân Burgess is brilliant in the multiple roles she plays in the show. Notably her portrayal of Rosette and Leyla, given their vast differences in age and experience as characters, Burgess handles this masterfully – she has a naturalistic approach to her acting that is entrancing. Unfortunately, she overshadows Dina Ibrahim as Um-Kamal, whose character arc should show us a woman stretching from young mother to 80-year-old woman, however there is very little difference in her physicalization throughout the play, or her vocal choices which at times seem a little forced and not so natural. The role is tough, and requires a fabulous performance, as we as the audience can so easily turn on this character for the brutal choices she makes to try and protect her family through the play. Her distress, anguish and burden needs to be evident in every scene, and this is not fully realised in this instance. 

The chemistry between the brothers (portrayed by Jojo Rosales and Mirdrit Zhinipotoku) is great and they do well really envelope the audience in their tale; their closeness in youth and the distance that grows between them as one pays for the others crimes. Manav Chaudhuri supports the cast fabulously in his multitude of roles. 

The lighting design by George Petty is wonderful and really uses the theatre to its full potential here. The biblical allusion to light at the end of Act 1 and Act 2, with a bright spotlight, backlighting the actors is fantastically achieved. 

This show has fabulous potential. The script and direction need a bit more time for development to really allow the story to flow and the message to be achieved but the relevance of work like this is so important and it’s a story that deserves to be told. 

Image Supplied

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