By Jerome Studdy
If only more people were educated and impassioned by watching theatre like this, we might stand a chance of a more harmonious human existence.
Opening night at La Mama Courthouse, for the premiere of Samah Sabawi's new play ‘Them’ was nothing short of gripping, enthralling, and raw. An entire community has poured itself into a simultaneous celebration of and pleading for stronger community, and presented an intelligent and gut-wrenching show. Before anything else is said, everyone who contributed to the production and performance of this show ought to be congratulated and thanked for the story they told.
‘Them’ tells the story of Leila and Omar, their young child, their unborn child, their friends, their family, and their community. Within their war-torn world, they are faced with fabricating normality in an environment where normality is almost impossible to conceive. Each character does what they must to survive, within the reach of their own morals. The entire play questions the consequences of staying or fleeing, and painfully tests the relationships between every character.
Sabawi’s writing, in conjunction with the direction of Bagryana Popov, is striking and breath-taking in its manipulation and control of tension. So much of the play is padded with humour. It’s intelligent. It humanises a story that we are so adept at dehumanising in order to clear ourselves of guilt or fear. The characters are presented as friends; they have charming senses of humour, they share banter, they sing, they lust. They’re human. The story is made enjoyable and the audience are made comfortable through the humour, digesting the otherwise horrific events quite easily. Then with the deftest flick, all humour is stripped away, the tension that has been kept at bay the entire show erupts, and the audience are frightened and crying alongside the characters as guns are pointed at women’s faces and pleas are screamed. It’s simply phenomenal work.
Of course, the play would never come to such potent life if it weren’t for the immense commitment and passion of the cast. Priscilla Doueihy as Leila and Abdulrahman Hammoud as Omar both play their characters with warmth and unity. The relationship they share on stage is beautiful, charming, fun, and inviting; exacerbating their tragedy. They form an incredible foil to the knock out performance of Claudia Greenstone as Salma. Greenstone’s work is razor sharp with impeccable control of tone and delivery of lines. The cast is rounded out by Khisraw Jones-Shukoor as Majid and Reece Vella as Mohamad. The two give dynamic performances with neat control of humour or rage. The final on-stage performance comes from Nahed Elrayes, who provides diegetic music in the form of piano performances between and leading into scenes. This is such a wonderful device for incorporating music into a performance, with the piano-man character also serving as important commentary woven into the script.
From a technical position, the show was tidy and ran quite smoothly. The set design was very clever, setting an identifiable scene with enough negative space for an audience to play their part in completing the world. Lighting, sound, prop work, and other effects were all used sparingly and to good effect. Unfortunately, the epilogue was not particularly effective, and did damage some of the work done throughout the play. Whilst the intention is understandable, it’s jarring to move from a world of mechanical effects to an esoteric soundscape of water and voices. At a time when I wanted nothing more than silence to follow the final footsteps, the epilogue muddled the emotion.
This play is undeniably powerful. It is important. People need to be seeing this play. Bravo to all for a phenomenal night at the theatre.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.