“What’s your relationship with this man?” It’s a question that Nicholas has heard a lot recently, to which he still hasn’t found a satisfying answer. Research assistant? Student? In reality Mohammed is his lover, but this is the Middle East – not the most welcoming part of the world for a gay couple. Cry Havoc was written by American playwright Tom Coash, who spent four years in Cairo himself, meaning he could draw on his own observations and experiences in the creation of this play. Brought to the Park Theatre by Time Zone Theatre for its European debut, the play examines a modern day clash of cultures, a repressive government, and a choice between love & faith.
Mohammed has just been released from prison, battered & bruised, hiding out at his flat in fear for his life. Meanwhile, Nicholas has been beside himself with worry and unable to find any trace of him; their paths finally cross, and both are forced to contemplate how to proceed from here. When it transpires that Mohammed’s name is on a list due to past political indiscretions, leaving him with the constant threat of arrest (or worse), Nicholas decides the best course of action is to apply for a visa for him so they can escape to England together. With the odds stacked against them, Mohammed agrees to give it a try – but as time goes on, he is forced to question his priorities and consider where he truly feels he belongs.
There could not be a much more relevant time for Cry Havoc to be performed. Brunei has just introduced death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex (to adhere to strict sharia law), the “morality” of teaching primary school children about LGBT issues is being debated, and the re-emergence of the far right has the potential to put all kinds of minority groups at risk. It’s also interesting to consider how the immigration process is depicted, given how thorny an issue it has become.
To the play’s credit, it doesn’t try to steamroller Western ideologies over everything, giving Mohammed a chance to explain some less well known aspects of his religion & culture, and how this makes him torn between his identity and his country. Whilst Nicholas’ instinct to flee is logical, he doesn’t fully grasp the weight of Mohammed’s faith and the importance he places on his identity.
Emily Bestow’s set design fits snugly into the corner of the Park90 space, really making the audience feel like flies on the wall, given an intimate insight into Nicholas & Mohammed’s lives. It has a lived-in look to it, with all the hallmarks of a home in a country like Egypt. Petr Vocka’s lighting design allows the play to switch locations with minimal fuss – spotlighting Nicholas and Ms Nevers at the embassy, for example – as well as splashes of colour coming in to paint the mood.
Karren Winchester is suitably hard to read as embassy official Ms Nevers; her inscrutable demeanour discomfiting Nicholas and making their encounters increasingly tense. James El-Sharawy brings out Mohammed’s quiet seriousness in his performance, contrasted with bursts of passion & fervour as he struggles to contain his frustration at his inner conflict. Marc Antolin brings some cheeky & irreverent humour to the idealistic Nicholas, as he grapples with the gravity of the situation and faces up to his own past. It’s clear he only wants what’s best for Mohammed, even if his love blinds him to the fact that Mohammed’s arrest has sparked a fundamental change within him.
My verdict? A scarily relevant play that explores the nature of cultural identity, and how it can impact on your life – beautifully and sensitively acted by the small cast.
Cry Havoc runs at the Park Theatre until 20 April 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.