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The Theatreguide.London Review

Multitudes
Tricycle Theatre   February-March 2015

A passionate, eloquent and frequently witty drama, John Hollingworth's first full-length play occasionally allows its machinery to show through, in the form of near-stereotypical characters and scenes too obviously created just to allow some things to be said out loud. 

But it says what it wants to say, what it wants to say is worth saying, and it will hold your attention and emotional involvement throughout. 

Hollingworth's subject is Multicultural Britain, the fantasy or lie that the island's many communities can blend in harmony or at least live peacefully side-by-side. He sees racism and xenophobia as too ingrained in even the most polite and liberal native consciousness, and resentment and reaction too inevitable in the victims of prejudice. 

In particular, this being the early Twenty-first Century, he looks at the country's young Muslims and the Islamophobia they face and respond to. 

The play is set in Bradford as a Conservative Party conference is predictably met by peaceful demonstrations. A local Pakistani councilman has the job of making everything go smoothly and thus impress the party functionaries who may be his ticket to Parliament. 

But he also has to deal with his English girlfriend, who has chosen this moment to very publicly convert to Islam; her mother, the very model of a polite but vicious middle-class racist; and his own daughter, acting out her teenage angst by flirting with terrorism. 

The plot devices that bring these characters together in various combinations in order to create debates, and the degree to which the characters become archetypes to make them personify and voice debating positions, are sometimes a little too obvious. 

But the debates are good, and the conclusion that the situation is a whole lot worse than we'd like to believe is convincing. Hollingworth offers no answers, but he forces us to face the issue without illusions. 

Indhu Rubasingham's production is fluid and effective both when jumping from one brief scene to another and when slowing down to allow the characters to interact and voice the playwright's concerns. 

It is very much to her credit, and to her actors', that they function just this side of the thin line between rounded, individualised characters and stereotypes or mere voices of the author's ideas. 

Clare Calbraith carries much of the play's emotional line as the new convert to Islam trying to negotiate a profound personal experience while remaining aware of its unexpected effects on others. 

Navin Chowdhry plays the ambitious local politician sometimes more concerned with his image than his loved ones, but convinces us his failings are those of weakness, not malice, and holds our sympathy. 

Jacqueline King as the genteel racist comes closest to slipping into caricature, but invests the woman's nastiness with such energy and personality that she is theatrically fascinating and a worthy debating adversary. 

Multitudes is, the author admits in a programme note, the result of several years of workshopping and rewriting. If perhaps one more draft might have smoothed out some of its rough edges and hidden its machinery better, it is as it stands both a thought-provoking intellectual challenge and a strong and moving drama.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Multitudes - Tricycle Theatre 2015

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