Review: Cry Havoc
Image: Park Theatre
Marc Antolin as Nicholas Field
James El-Sharawy as Mohammed El-Masri
Karren Winchester as Mrs Nevers
In present day Cairo, two men are forced to confront their cultural identities, traditions and a repressive government in a gripping search for love and faith.
Cry Havoc is a passionate love story between a spirited young Egyptian and an idealistic British writer.
Tom Coash's poignant, intimate play explores the relationship between the Western world and the Islamic Middle East through the eyes of two people asking if love can bridge even the widest cultural divide.
Arrested by the Egyptian authorities, summarily tortured and raped in prison, we meet the bloodied Mohammed arriving home after "repenting" and being released by his captors.
His initial reaction to his brutal, 6 day incarceration is to want to leave his Egyptian homeland and seek refuge elsewhere.
His boyfriend Nicholas, a British citizen living in Egypt, is ready and willing to help Mohammed get a visa for the UK.
That initially seems to be a handy resolution to Mohammed's problems and to avoid (almost certain) further brutality at the hands of the authorities.
But Mohammed's real journey through this affecting and revealing story is one that forces him to examine more fundamental considerations than survival.
Cry Havoc, then, is not simply a drama about escaping political persecution and finding some kind of sanctuary and, possibly, salvation elsewhere.
And even if it revolves appropriately around a love story, the play is not really concerned with romantic love, even if that makes the struggle described somewhat more powerful, and is only partially about the particular issues of a gay relationship.
Though leaving his country seems initially to be the way to avoid further brutality - and even death - Mohammad has to face the question of where he can be himself, or as he puts it "to be Egyptian".
That sets us on the path of discovering just what it means to depart one's homeland leaving behind such things as culture, language, religion, family, friendships and the many other factors that essentially make us who we are.
James El-Sharawy (front) and Marc Antolin - Photo by Lidia Crisafulli
The traffic of this 80 minute play, then, is a heart-rending transition for Mohammed as he wrestles to decide where his future lies.
That struggle is revealed with multiple factors influencing his thinking, changing his view of his fragile position in his own community as well as his relationship with Nicholas.
There are finely-crafted, yet natural performances to savour here from both James El-Sharawy as Mohammed and Marc Antolin as Nicholas, backed-up with sensitively deft direction from Pamela Schermann.
In spite of his caring, loving and desperate intent to help his lover, Mr Antolin's Nicholas is reduced to being something of a bystander in the real action of the play which largely takes place inside his partner's mind.
Increasingly angry as time progresses, Mr El-Sharawy's Mohammed contends with his memories of a visit to London, his belief in god, his father's attitude towards him and the involvement of an unseen friend as he wrestles to find resolution to the decision he knows he must make.
(From left) Karren Winchester, James El-Sharawy and Marc Antolin - photo by Lidia Crisafulli
There's also a wonderfully watchable performance from Karren Winchester (as the British diplomat considering Mohammed's application for a visa) who neatly wrong-foots us about her intentions and ultimately forces Nicholas to answer the question (heard several times during the play) "What is your relationship with this man?".
Given recent mass migration events and continuing arrivals of asylum seekers on our shores, Tom Coash's well-written and highly commendable play forcibly reminds us that considering leaving one's homeland because of persecution involves a much more tortuous internal journey - one that often results, not in actual migration, but in remaining to face an uncertain future and possibly even greater hardships.
Thought-provoking, affecting and insightful, Cry Havoc is highly recommended.
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