Call My Brothers
Gate Theatre Autumn 2016
Amor is a non-practising Muslim living in Sweden, an ordinary guy who has friends, likes to party, and does well in school and college. Even his one bit of weirdness, an obsession with an old girlfriend, isn't culture-specific.
And then a couple of bombs go off downtown and the world changes.
The people he passes on the street seem to be noticing him in a different way, and he becomes self-conscious about looking as innocent as he actually is.
But how, for example, do you walk naturally when you are consciously trying to walk in a way that looks natural? How do you carry on the ordinary business of living if you are always watching others watching you?
We follow Amor through a day of this self-consciousness and see how the sheer strain of feeling his outsiderness so abruptly and strongly drains him, while Swedish playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri (here smoothly translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles) effectively draws us into the paranoia.
Several scenes play out in a dangerous direction only to be aborted and identified as Amor's fears and fantasies, and replayed in the more innocent form they actually took.
But we can't be sure of all the rest – is there really an undercover cop trailing him? – and our skilfully manipulated uncertainty makes us feel and not just watch Amor's dislocation.
That the play is so effective in communicating its main point means that I have to be tentative about criticising parts.
Several sequences, including the extended section about Amor's obsession with the girl and a quite lovely imagined conversation with his grandmother, play like digressions from the main action.
But perhaps they are more necessary than they at first seem in fleshing out Amor's character and giving a before-and-after sense of who he is.
Director Tinuke Craig is to be commended for making the play's major insight into what it is like to be The Other so clear and sustaining the emotional core of Amor's journey.
But in staging the play she and designer Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey fall into the trap of showing off their cleverness more than serving the author.
The fact that many of Amor's interactions with other characters are by phone inspired placing the three other members of the cast in plexiglass boxes, evidently suggesting stylised phone booths, with their voices amplified and distorted to sound like they're on the phone.
Only in the few moments that any are meant to actually talk to Amor face to face do they leave their boxes, and the device is obtrusive and distracting.
Richard Sumitro ably carries the play as Amor, moving smoothly and believably through a range of emotions. Nadia Albina, Jonas Khan and Lanna Joffrey double and triple roles as Everyone Else, generously supporting the play without having much opportunity to develop characterisations beyond rough sketches.
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Review - I Call My Brothers - Gate Theatre 2016