CRY HAVOC. Written by Tom Coash. Directed by Roy Sergeant, with Cameron Robertson, David Viviers and Anthea Thompson. At Rosebank Theatre until September 5. TRACEY SAUNDERS reviews
IN THE current transactional society, where everything and everyone seems to have a price, there are few selfless exchanges. Even relationships where it would appear on the surface that there is no quid pro quo bear further examination.
Cry Havoc examines one relationship which initially seems selfless.
Two young men, Mohammed El-Masri, a Circassian Egyptian, and Nicholas Field, a British teacher, are lovers in Cairo.
Nicholas is escaping the strictures of Great Britain for the perceived freedom of an African city to which he feels a strong emotional connection. A photograph of his father at the pyramids during the World War II evokes a longing in him to connect with Egypt. This Egypt (the play is originally set in 2003) is a different country however, and his idealised and somewhat naive perceptions are challenged.
The play is set against the backdrop of a vicious regime where people perceived to be enemies of the state are incarcerated, beaten, tortured and even killed.
Defiance of the government and any displays of Western ideology are punished. It opens with Mohammed nursing the injuries he has sustained during a fortnight in captivity. He shows visible signs of torture which Nicholas attempts to nurse.
It is the invisible damage that he has suffered though which his lover is unable to heal. Nicholas is devastated by the treatment meted out to his lover and his immediate response is one of violent retribution. He dispenses cups of Earl Grey tea and glasses of whiskey with a stiff upper lip and weak attempts at humour. British pragmatism prevails though and he applies for a visa for his lover to accompany him back to London.
Once the immediate shock wears off though, Mohammed wants more than tea and sympathy, and the prospect of immigrating loses its initial appeal.
The script is dense and the intense monologues require a committed cast to do it justice. This trio of actors are that and so much more. It is difficult to believe that Robertson and Viviers are recent graduates.
Viviers encapsulates the stereotypical young Brit abroad, the curious combination of awkwardness and absolute cocksureness. His initial feelings of impotence when expressed to Mohammed are met with the response: “You’re not useless, you’re just British.”
Viviers is tasked with the additional responsibility of bearing more than just his individual role. He represents the Empire and all the attributes of the West that Mohammed is initially drawn to and then repulsed by.
Viviers has broad shoulders though and appears unbowed by the historical burden which he bears. There are glimpses of his personal feelings, but he seems more in love with the idea of being in love and one is not entirely sure whether he is enamoured with Mohammed, or with what he represents.
Robertson’s brooding belligerency shows cracks of vulnerability which he is quick to hide. His transformation during the course of the play is quietly revolutionary. His personal struggle between his individual desires and his national loyalty torment him and have a profound affect on his relationship. Robertson carries that struggle like a wound spring. The tension is visible and he portrays the role with remarkable intensity.
He has a clearer insight on the tyranny of the state. In his childhood neighbourhood that is demolished, his close friends that are arrested. This is not merely an idealogical battle, but the upheaval of his personal life.
The unravelling of his individual circumstances mirrors the downfall of the state. Initially he craves the perceived sanctuary which fleeing to London with Nicholas offers him. His dreams of a life in a foreign country are idealized, as so many of the migrants who seek sanctuary in the west are.
The conflict between him and Nicholas is more than personal, it is a conflict between religious beliefs, cultural values and political ideologies.
Thomson, a seasoned actress doesn’t disappoint, and as with her recent performance in Christiaan Olwagen’s The Doll’s House she plays a small, yet pivotal role. Her portrayal of Ms Nevers, who is employed at the British Embassy, encapsulates the mixed response to migrants seeking asylum in the UK. She plays the role with sensitivity and quintessential dry British wit.
The piece works particularly well in the intimate and surprisingly versatile space of the Rosebank Theatre. The apartment window opens out convincingly to the hostile environment outside.
With the appearance of a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and minor adjustments to a table, an interview room is created.
The original soundscape devised by Ashraaf Johaardien and Alby Michaels has been re-mastered by Andrew Carelse and is evocative and haunting. Sergeant has not shirked from creating an intimacy between the lovers and the rare moments of tenderness between them are made more poignant by the inevitable denouement.
Coash did not feel compelled to construct the usual “happy ending”, and while the much vaunted trope of the radicalised Muslim is open for critique, the script is to be commended for its interrogation of issues that are sadly still prevalent on a continent where homosexuality remains an offence punishable by death in many countries.
“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”, is a phrase uttered with regret by Anthony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The term is more often associated with military matters rather than those of love.
The war in this play is experienced on a national level and references the broader international “war on terror”. It is the personal war within each character and the inevitable conflict between Mohammed and Nicholas however that makes this a rich and engaging experience.
This is a political love story that examines the repercussions of love in a time of hate, and the terribly high price that individuals pay when a rogue state polices who and how its citizens love.
l Tickets R120.To book see www.webtickets.co.za