Multitudes at the Tricycle theatre had its last performance yesterday, and I saw the penultimate show in the afternoon. It's a debut play by actor John Hollingworth, set in Bradford in the near future, and it tackles head-on the kind of subject that most playwrights would prefer to avoid.
That willingness to ask difficult questions about the experience of Moslems in Britain outweighs any dramatic shortcomings. It takes a clear, unsentimental and fair-minded view of the problems faced by anyone who wants to be Moslem and British at the same time. Against the backdrop of a Conservative party conference in Bradford that coincides with a Moslem women's street protest camp and another war in the Middle East, there's rising tension.
The principal victims are Kash, a Conservative local politician who wears his Moslem beliefs lightly and considers himself British, and his partner Natalie, who converts to Islam. Kash is a widower whose 18-year-old daughter Qadira is alienated both from her father and her country. The veneer of tolerance cracks open between Natalie's mother Lyn, another leading light in the local Conservatives, and Kash, leading to a brutal slanging match in which she tells him he will never belong.
Jacqueline King, as Lyn, has to voice some appalling racist lines, but manages to prevent her character coming over as just a bigot. Clare Calbraith as Natalie and Navin Chowdhry as Kash also give subtle performances. The other characters -- and there are slightly too many of them for a cast of six to handle -- are a bit one-dimensional.
Indhu Rubasingham's direction zips the play with its multiple short scenes along at a sharp pace, not leaving the actors much time to dig beneath the surface of their characters. Most of the scenes are short and are transitioned by shifting screens moving back and forward across the stage. This is a device I've seen a number of times and I'm starting to find it irritating. But the strength of Hollingworth's writing lies in his personal knowledge of and engagement with the theme of the play.
I have never been to Bradford, and I'm curious to know how plausible its residents would find it if it was staged there.