Theatre review: Multitudes at Tricycle Theatre

By John Hollingworth
Directed by Indhu Rubasingham
at The Tricycle Theatre

Multitudes By John Hollingworth Directed by Indhu Rubasingham at The Tricycle Theatre Director: Indhu Rubasingham Designer: Richard Kent Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick Sound Designers: Ben and Max Ringham Movement Director: Lucy Hind Cast Clare Calbraith, Navin Chowdhry, Salma Hoque, Asif Khan, Jacqueline King, Maya Sondhi - Credit: Photo by Mark Douet

Marianka Swain finds John Hollingworth’s play to be a flawed but urgent look at British Islam

Actor-turned-playwright John Hollingworth’s debut isn’t so much ripped from the headlines as startlingly prescient. Developed four years before the Paris attacks and Jihadi John’s gruesome antics, Multitudes tackles immigration, Islamic conversion and multicultural discord with a passion that fires complex topical debate.

However, though he draws careful, nuanced distinctions between ethnic, social and generational factions, his attempt to pack everything into one place and one family strains credulity.

Moderate Pakistani-born councillor Kash (Navin Chowdhry) has a white partner (Clare Calbraith) converting to Islam, newly radicalised daughter (Salma Hoque) and mother-in-law (Jacqueline King) giving Nigel Farage a run for his money. The arrival of the Tory conference in Bradford instigates a camp protesting anti-Muslim militarism abroad, challenging Kash’s role as mediator between increasingly combative opposing forces.

This overload necessitates storytelling shorthand, with Newsnight-style screaming matches replacing authentic interaction. A subplot featuring two Tory spin doctors with polarised views on Party diversity, though incisive about media bias and hollow political rhetoric, goes adrift.

But while the overall plot is chaotic, with several threads left dangling, Hollingworth and director Indhu Rubasingham create striking, memorable moments, and – like the recently revived East is East – undercut daunting questions with heart and humour. Richard Kent’s sliding screens contribute to a propulsive show, as well as illustrating both overlap and division between communities.Chowdhry’s weakening agent of compromise impresses, as does Calbraith’s well- meaning interloper, and King sidesteps pantomime by exposing the confusion and loneliness beneath the bigotry. Asif Khan and Maya Sondhi do sterling work with numerous parts, but Hoque’s teenage rebellion is too generalised.

It’s a flawed yet vital demonstration of how tolerance struggles to compete with the certainty of extremism, and alienation is a more common experience than we imagine.

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