Theatre Review - Word-play

WORDS are important. They can inspire, harm and reveal unconscious bias. Rabiah Hussain’s topical play focuses on the impact of political language in the UK today.

Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech is referenced in a prologue that takes place in blackout. We then open in Downing Street’s press office. The prime minister has just said something offensive, but refuses to apologise. In a desperate bid to mitigate matters, his team look up various synonyms for “sorry”.

What follows is a series of sketches that explore the power of language. Throughout, Hussain interrogates what is considered “normal” and the nuances of “difference”.

One very funny scene takes play in a radio studio. The interviewee can swear, but any words that suggest impartiality, like “weird”, are covered with a beep.

In “Different”, a man asks his girlfriend to explain what exactly she meant when she told her friends that he was “different… in the context of my faith”.

In “Bad Father”, a character admits to his therapist that he has led his children to believe words don’t hurt. He has ill-prepared them for the prejudiced world they will have to navigate: “words… hit you like artillery fire… They shatter your bones.”

The PM ’s unrepentant blunder finds its way into various conversations, reminding us that the misuse of words by those in power has far-reaching consequences.

The final scenario involves a small child who, after writing her name in her mother tongue, is detained by teachers responding to the Prevent strategy.

Rosanna Vize’s glass-box set is impressive but the vast playing area could have been better utilised and scene changes were occasionally slow. By contrast, a game of word association and the exchanging of WhatsApp messages were too swift to fully process.

But it’s well acted by the five-strong cast (Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba and Yusra Warsama) and there is much to admire and ponder.

Until August 26

Originally published by Westminster Extra