Review: The Incident
Image: Tosin Sanni & Tyme Design
Cassandra Hercules as Monica Moyo
David Weiss as Jan Larsson
The Incident is an award-winning play by Swedish Playwright Joakim Daun that tackles belonging, migration, racism and power through an intimate love story spanning Sweden and Zimbabwe.
The Incident explores the realities of living in a different culture, far from family, support, and tradition.
It takes a closer at who we allow to belong in our societies and what it means to be an ambitious, non-white woman in a mostly white, male dominated society.
The play takes a critical look at when belonging is conditional upon confronting an oppressive homogeneous environment.
It asks how 'progressive' people really are when they're confronted with difficult choices.
How do peoples' own history, culture and language influence their perceptions and treatment of people that are different from them?
The Incident was created collaboratively between Swedish writer Joakim Daun and American Dramaturge Zoë Guzy-Sprague.
The play premiered at the Harare International Festival of the Arts, Zimbabwe in 2017 and was part of the main stage program at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa 2018 where it was directed by Elizabeth Zaza Muchemwa.
The London run is directed by acclaimed Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier at Two Gents Production and stars Swedish actor David Weiss and British actress Cassandra Hercules.
Supported by the Swedish Embassy in London and by using public funding by Arts Council England.
Over the recent past, we've witnessed poignant scenes of refugees making their way - largely from the northern parts of Africa - to seek sanctuary and new lives in Europe.
Though this play is not about that particular kind of migration involving refugees, it touches on the same issues that migrants face when they end-up living in European countries.
Jan meets Monica when he's visiting Zimbabwe - they actually meet while dancing and, to say the least, Jan is not someone destined for a role on Strictly!
Still, a relationship develops between them and, since Monica is destined to undertake her doctorate in Sweden, they end up living together there.
Moreover, Jan manages to wangle a job for Monica in the school where he works, even though she is not a qualified teacher.
That started to leave me feeling uneasy about the accuracy of the piece, which only got further reinforced as the play developed.
Monica has a confrontation with one of her students which escalates after the boy accuses her of having hit him and she is put on leave while the school's board investigates.
Some administrative elements here feel unlikely and unsound, even though I am not an expert on the educational system in Sweden.
First, Monica does not make formal notes about the incident as Jan asked her.
As her superior, he should also have made an official record of his discussions with her about the matter, but he didn't, and he also failed to ensure that she followed-up as he had requested.
Later, Monica is never asked to give her account at a formal hearing or tribunal.
Though the procedures may be different in Sweden, that seems particularly odd - something that would be very unlikely to happen in the UK.
Similarly, Jan refuses Monica time off when she needs to go back to her native country for a funeral, as he says it's against school policy - but when she says she has found someone to cover for her, he lets her go anyway.
All of this significantly undermines believability in what the play is describing.
With an open plan setting the actors are on-set most of the time, and scene changes are effected with them moving boxes around which, after a while, becomes repetitive and rather tedious.
But a more important deficiency is the credibility of the relationship between Jan and Monica.
Though they are supposed to be lovers, the interactions between them lack natural intimacy with David Weiss's Jan being rather stiff and formal which sits awkwardly alongside Cassandra Hercules's more bubbly and outgoing Monica.
Maybe that was part of the point - that the relationship was doomed anyway, or at least on a rocky road because of the disconnect between the characters' personalities - and, perhaps, their backgrounds - but it also felt lacking in genuine affection and tenderness.
There are some meaty, urgent and important issues raised about racism in particular during the course of The Incident, but an effective analysis and discussion of them is subsumed by the overall lack of believability in both the central relationship and the questionable material facts.
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ActDrop listing for Canada Water Theatre
Our show listing for The Incident
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