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Multitudes

by on 16 October 2018

Melting Pot comes to the Boil

Multitudes

by John Hollingworth

Questors Theatre Company at the Questors Studio, Ealing, until 20th October

Review by Eleanor Lewis

London and other cities seen as having a multi-cultural identity are frequently described in terms of a melting pot, a description which tends to gloss over the actual ‘melting’ process. First performed in 2015, Multitudes addresses what happens when the melting pot reaches boiling point.

Set in the city of Bradford, the Tories are about to arrive for conference in the city. They have just won an election and they’re supporting military action in the Middle East. The nation as a whole is squirming with unrest, mosques and a vicar having been attacked. A peace camp appears in the city, set up by Muslim women. Against this backdrop, Kash, a local Muslim councillor is hoping to become an MP. Natalie, his white partner, converts to Islam (but without consulting Kash) and takes up the hijab. Natalie’s confused and increasingly defensive mother, Lyn, fears the changes in the city she grew up in and turns to alcohol, from time to time launching into rants of the go-home-this-isn’t-really-your-country type. Perhaps most disturbingly Kash’s daughter Qadira, while struggling to reconcile her western environment with her Muslim identity starts to look for answers in radicalism.

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Over the course of six days this small family fragments, the strain of events around them forcing them to take a side however much they don’t want to. Natalie tries to function as a human bridge between all parties but breaks under the stress coming at her from all sides: she loses her job, suffers abuse from the community she’s tried to join, her mother can’t accept her religious conversion and Kash worries about how her actions supporting the peace camp look to the watching world. Eventually every character is backed into a corner and “whose side are you on?” is really the only question any of them has to answer. Whilst writer John Hollingworth does not provide a happy conclusion to this dilemma, he does perhaps suggest in the final section of the work that tribal loyalties are ultimately counterproductive, particularly in the face of the behemoth that is radical terrorism.

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All of which might sound like heavy going, but this is a tightly written work with comic moments scattered throughout it, cropping up naturally as they do in everyday life, adding authenticity to the interactions taking place. This is not to say that authenticity is lacking, the level of performance matched the quality of the writing. All four principals were rounded, flawed, sympathetic characters: Anil Goutam’s Kash, was a man constantly keeping himself in check while trying to advance his career and keep his integrity; Maya Markelle brought out Natalie’s articulate but increasing frustration as she tried and failed to sort everyone out; Sarah Assaf conveyed the bewildered anger of a teenage Quadira lacking direction but wanting to do the right thing. Gillian Jacyna played Lyn as a woman whose anger and bigotry was born of the fear she felt at failing to cope with changing times, she was vulnerable. The supporting cast produced equally skilled performances, five actors sharing eleven roles, but still fully-formed character sketches: evidence of efficient direction and thoughtful performance.

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The production moved at a great pace – there is a lot packed into this play, there would be, it’s the ‘melting pot’ issue – but strong direction brought out everything there was to be noted. Terry Mummery’s lighting and Olly Potter’s sound, including the call to prayer between scenes sometimes, enhanced the sparely furnished central playing block, though the staging itself could have been better. The fact that all the action took place in various sections across the long, black brick wall of Questors Studio meant that exits and entrances, particularly from stage right could be quite lengthy. This was particularly clunky after one significant moment toward the end of Act II. Possibly a couple of drapes either side might have helped.

There was a strange sort of script ‘tic’, more often in the first act than the second, when the question What? i.e. “what’s wrong with you/that” is furiously asked by different characters more times than is effective, and it interrupts the flow a little. Aside from that, Bradford accents were consistently sound, with only the very occasional lapse into somewhere in Scotland and the north east.

I enjoyed Multitudes, the family relationship between the four principal characters was both believable and attractive despite, or possibly because, it was fraught. Multitudes ticks two important boxes, it’s both interesting and entertaining. The play’s ending is open to different interpretations but one of those has to be that ultimately we will all come together again, it’s just that the process of getting to that point is probably going to be unbearably difficult.

Eleanor Lewis
October 2018

Photography by Jane Arnold-Forster.

From → Drama, Reviews

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