Cry Havoc

There is plenty of barking in the street during Tom Coash’s Cry Havoc at the Park Theatre. Whilst these are not ‘the dogs of war’ that have been ‘let slip’, their baying is easily interpreted as symbolic of the ever-present authorities in pursuit of the blood of those who criticise the state or violate the oppressive laws of the country.

A frustratingly plain play that should be more memorable than it is.

The setting is present-day Cairo, but there is a timelessness and universality in this play that makes it applicable in locations around the world and to the repression that denies both political freedom of thought and personal liberty. It is all the more timely following the recent developments in Brunei. Yet this is an overwhelmingly personal story that, through its focus on the lives of two young men, highlights the circumstances of millions.

Nicholas (Marc Antolin) is a writer who has spent some time in Egypt, where he has fallen in love with Mohammed (James El-Sharawy), a cartoonist, critical of the regime. He has just been released from arrest, an action for which the authorities need give no reason, but which clearly combined his political dissidence and life style. The physical harm he displays is nothing compared to the psychological damage he has suffered. Nicholas invites him to forsake all and embrace a new life with him in the UK. He is torn between the possibility of the freedom that would allow him to be true to himself, in a country where he will always be an outsider, or of remaining in the place where he Is culturally and religiously at home and has family. Does he quit, or ‘take up arms against a sea of troubles’?

It’s a moving story that might well require a tissue or two, but it struggles. Although in one act, it is divided into perhaps too many scenes by director Pamela Schermann and has a far more powerful second half than first. The initial stages explore the relationship and current situation. Antolin is an Olivier Award nominee, although this is a far cry from Little Shop of Horrors. That his protestations of love often seem superficial and rote, glibly rattled off with little heartfelt passion surely derives in considerable measure from the dullness of the script. The lines simply don’t carry the intensity of emotional attachment that should exist between them and that as performers they are trying to establish. El-Sharawy has an easier time but he too has moments where he is deprived of quality dialogue. It’s also unforgivable that a playwright refer to AIDS when he clearly means HIV. Both have the opportunity to show their strengths as the romantic exchanges meld with political debate in the later stages.

As the plot develops Nicholas begins the visa application process on behalf of Mohammed, visiting the immigration office of the Embassy. Here he encounters Mrs Nevers (Karren Winchester) and a mountain of paperwork. Hers is a small, yet pivotal part. Winchester, bureaucratically besuited in black, gives a splendidly enigmatic performance that is something of a thriller in its own right. Her seductive, prying questioning, that shrouds her intentions in mystery, will lead to a decision on Mohammed's future that could go either way and adds much-needed tension to the situation.

Assisting in that department is a sensuous and mystical sound design from Julian Starr that not only sets the location, while avoiding the very obvious use of a muezzin chanting from a nearby minaret, but also has meticulously crafted soundscapes that heighten the moods of the scenes they both introduce and reflect upon. His resounding climax is both harrowing and threatening; a chilling finale to accompany the denouement.

Cry Havoc is a frustratingly plain play that should be more memorable than it is. The subject, the actors and audience deserve better.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

In present day Cairo, two men are forced to confront their cultural identities, traditions and a repressive government in a gripping search for love and faith.

Cry Havoc is a passionate love story between a spirited young Egyptian and an idealistic British writer.

Tom Coash’s poignant, intimate play explores the relationship between the Western world and the Islamic Middle East through the eyes of two people asking if love can bridge even the widest cultural divide.

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