The War Next Door
Tricycle Theatre Spring 2007
In Tamsin Oglesby's new play a liberal British couple suspect that their Asian neighbour is abusing his wife, and worry about what to do.
Should they act on suspicion alone? Do they have the right to impose their values on what may be more normal in their neighbours' culture? Will intervening actually make things worse?
And just in case it is not evident that this plot is a metaphor for Britain's larger struggle with multiculturalism and for the West's intervention in the Middle East, a programme note by the playwright spells it out.
The surface story itself, with the dilemma of when one may - or must -intervene in another's private life, is a strong and pertinent one, and the metaphorical levels are unstrained and thought-provoking.
That makes it even more of a shame that the play itself is not better than it is.
The play is not bad, certainly. It says most of what it wants to, and Nicolas Kent's direction solves some technical problems - notably, how to depict the violence - inventively.
It's just a little clumsy, tripping over itself in alternate spasms of obscurity and obviousness, with drama clashing uncomfortably with presumably unintended comedy.
While the Asian couple (Jonathan Coyne and Badria Timimi) never rise above cliché - he a crude bully, she outwardly submissive but inwardly seething, Oglesby seems to have gone out of her way to turn the British couple (David Michaels and Lorraine Burroughs) into cartoons and parodies of middle-class liberals.
They're an interracial couple, to start with. A buttoned-down barrister by day, he grows his own marijuana while she sunbathes nude in the garden, and they wax passionate about recycling bins, solar panels and waterless toilets.
Their most serious and dramatic moments are likely to be punctuated by digressions on global warming or how long it takes nappies to disintegrate in landfills, the incongruity frequently generating unwelcome bursts of giggling in the audience.
A fifth character, the neighbour's adult son (Sonny Muslim), is too obviously a plot device, there just to set up a couple of shocking climaxes, and the ending of the play is both over-extended and abrupt - that is, the final scene goes on far longer than it needs to, and still doesn't wrap everything up.
And rhymed couplets are difficult enough to pull off when you're a talented poet doing Moliere, and a serious error when your ear is as tin as Oglesby's.
This is a drama that might actually read better than it plays, when you might appreciate the author's intention without being distracted by the imperfections in its execution.
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Review of The War Next Door - Tricycle Theatre 2007