Monday, 2 March 2015

Theatre review: Multitudes

Much as it suits the narratives of particular papers and politicians to pretend otherwise, British Muslims aren't a homogenous group with a single mindset but are, as the title of John Hollingworth's play has it, Multitudes, all with their own experiences and priorities. Hollingworth attempts - with variable success - to put as many of these points of view, as well as some that oppose them, into a single Bradford family. The famously multicultural city becomes the unlikely venue for the Conservative Party Conference, at the same time as military action in Syria is being mooted. A moderate Muslim and longstanding local councillor with Parliamentary ambitions, Kash (Navin Chowdhry) is due to make an optimistic speech at the conference. He's a widower with a teenage daughter, and a white girlfriend, Natalie (Clare Calbraith,) who's got a surprise in store for him.

When Natalie converts to Islam on the even of the conference, Kash is less pleased than she expects: Familiar with the way the press will twist facts to shed a bad light on Muslims, he expects them to paint her conversion as something he forced on her.

Natalie's religious conversion also sets off tensions her mother has been holding back ever since she started dating Kash, and Lyn (Jacqueline King, looking terrifyingly Katie Hopkins-esque) is soon ranting racist views she's kept to herself so as to toe the party line. While all this is going on, Kash's daughter Qadira (Salma Hoque) is going unnoticed as she seeks a more radical solution to the British Muslim identity she doesn't feel really exists.

So Multitudes aims to cover a lot of ground, an ambition that does frequently trip it up. It's mostly made up of very short scenes, jumping around in a way that after a while starts to feel unfocused. And when it does get to the meat of the debate, it largely consists of the characters screaming at each other for ten minutes at a time. So it's fortunate that Indhu Rubasingham has given the play a very confident, focused production that, while not disguising the script's problems, makes for a powerful examination of issues that are, unfortunately, always topical.

There's committed performances from the central cast, but kudos also has to go to Asif Khan and Maya Sondhi: As part of the attempt to reflect multicultural Bradford as much as possible, Hollingworth has included a large amount of supporting roles for them. It's a credit to their performances and Richard Kent's costume design that we instantly know who they're playing the moment they step on stage. Bradford is a character in its own right - I'd say it was largely defined by its multiculturalism, but that seems to come second to an unhealthy fixation with Greggs the Bakers that every character seems to share. For all its issues Multitudes can't be accused of not having something to say for itself, and it even builds to a pretty moving conclusion.

Multitudes by John Hollingworth is booking until the 21st of March at the Tricycle Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

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