Wednesday 3 April 2019

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre

Mohammed arrives back in his shabby apartment. His eyes are black and bruised, blood splatters his face, cigarette burns litter his shirt and scar his chest. He’s clearly been attacked, but no explicit reason is given. The implication: because he’s a homosexual.

This is the starting point for playwright Tom Coash’s latest play Cry Havoc performed at the Park Theatre. While homosexuality is not criminalised in Egypt, there is prevailing public opinion against LGBT+ people and many people of the community are regularly abused or punished by the police. It’s in this world that Coash sets his love story between an Egyptian man and an Englishman, a play that hinges on the identity crisis of a young man outlawed by his own society yet failing to find peace in another.

Mohammed (James El-Sharawy) and Nicholas (Marc Antolin) are painted as two very different men, star-crossed lovers embarking on a forbidden relationship. Nicholas is foppish and speaks in clichéd British-isms and references; Mohammed is intense and brooding. Much of the play is spent with the two men discussing their religious and cultural differences, but little common ground on which to base their relationship. Nicholas intends to return to England and sets out to acquire a visa for Mohammed to join him, a decision that has dire consequences.

Politically, Cry Havoc intrigues. The depiction of modern day Egypt is eye-opening, the sense of danger just outside the apartment walls palpable. El-Sharawy gives a captivating performance as Mohammed, trapped by his own identity, tormented and conflicted. When he speaks of his time in prison, the ordeal is harrowing. When he seeks to solve violence with violence, his radicalised actions are tragically inevitable. By contrast, Antolin’s Nicholas represents the helplessness of the West, his involvement dealing with an immigration officer only makes things worse. The haven of England is written in cliché, a distant dream.

Yet it’s all a little too heavy handed. Love is described in overtly poetic terms by both Nicholas (the character is, of course, a writer) and by Karren Winchester’s immigration officer Ms. Nevers in one particularly on-the-nose scene. That’s starkly contrasted with the reality of their situation, spoken in deadpan sarcasm and deadly truths. These are two men clearly at opposite ends of a spectrum – the short, well-paced scenes consist largely of exchanges of experience without any real conversation or evolving relationship.

Undermining the plot is a lack of chemistry between the actors. Through their exchanges, there’s no commonality between them and, while the actors work incredibly hard individually, together their relationship just doesn’t feel real. As such, Cry Havoc resonates politically more than emotionally, highlighting the frightening dangers of being gay in a violent country.


Watch: Cry Havoc runs at the Park Theatre until 20th April.

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre

Cry Havoc @ Park Theatre
Photos: Lidia Crisafulli