Alkaline, Park Theatre
Sarah and Sophie have been best friends since secondary school, but now Sarah has converted to Islam, everything has changed.
When Sophie (EJ Martin) invites Sarah (Claire Cartwright) and her new boyfriend Ali (Nitin Kundra) round for a dinner party, it doesn’t go too well. She kicks off the evening by telling Sarah that she can’t wear her headscarf when she is bridesmaid at her wedding ‘because you know, I like everything to match’.
It’s awkward. It is clear that the former good friends have nothing in common anymore, and are hanging on by a thread. While Sophie downs the white wine, and her fiancé Nick (Alan Mahon), is ‘on the sniff’, Sarah opts only for herbal tea; quite a change, we learn, from her former wild child years.
But Sophie doesn’t like change. We quickly learn that she seems to cling on to tradition, despite it obviously making her miserable. She appears to only be with boyfriend of ten years, despite being unhappy, for the wedding. Similarly, she’s moving up the career ladder in a job she hates, for the money.
Sarah couldn’t be more different. She’s shunned society’s expectations of her and has never been happier. She tries to tell her friend about the beauty of new found faith and the excitement of her new relationship with Ali, but all Sophie wants to know is, if she’s been groomed, as she’s ‘seen this pattern of behaviour before, on videos on the internet’.
Her interactions with Ali are even more painful, as she makes stereotypical assumptions about his family, faith and lifestyle; then proceeds to tell the room the story of a mutual friend who now works in a primary school ‘where ALL of the children in her class are Muslim…ALL. It’s not very multicultural,is it?’
Stephanie Martin’s script is sharp, witty and relevant. From Brexit and Trump, to liberalism and extremism, Martin cleverly peppers in topical political points of discussion and we watch the car crash commence. EJ Martin and Claire Cartwright are convincing and relatable as friends whose values and life choices have veered in very different directions.
The set, a well decorated middle class living room, garden and hallway (expertly created by Georgia de Grey) is perfectly claustrophobic – symbolising all that’s wrong with Sophie’s life, and the perfect stage for tensions to mount in this terrible dinner party – and when Ali’s estranged wife arrives, tensions in the house reach an all time high.
The play is well-acted and entertaining, but crucially, it’s important. The play forces us consider the misconceptions we have of Islam and, specifically, of converts. The character’s conversations, which make up the body of the play, though awkward to watch, are all excellent food for thought.
EJ plays Sophie as an unlikeable but tragic figure. By the end of the play, we begin to feel for her. Her character represents Britons everywhere, whose intolerance isn’t borne out of hate, but instead, fear. Sophie’s fear of the new, of the unknown, of the different, has caused her great sadness. The production works because it isn’t preachy and doesn’t pretend to have the answers, but it starts the conversation. While the ending does feel a tad abrupt, it definitely leaves you thinking and wanting more.
Alkaline is showing at the Park Theatre until August 4th 2018