It’s surprising how, even with all the social media and communication devices available, families can drift apart. Mine live up in Lancashire and I get to see them once or twice a year. Imagine though if I had been away for a couple of years and then went home to find my brother had fundamentally changed everything about his life. How would I react? A conundrum that is at the heart of Claudia Marinaro’s new play Becoming Mohammed at the Pleasance Theatre.
In a very sparse living room, a young man is about to start his prayers. Dressed in a simple white robe and kufi, he carefully places his prayer rug to face Ka’ba and begins to perform Salah. Unfortunately, a loud knocking at the door interrupts his prayers and, he hurries his way through to the end. Removing his Muslim clothes the man is revealed as Thomas (Jack Hammett) a tall bearded chap. He opens the door to let in his sister Sarah (Philippa Carson). The two siblings have not seen each other for a long while and it quickly becomes obvious that Thomas has not informed his sister that he is a Muslim. However, all that is about to change as Thomas’ guests arrive in the shape of Musa (Jonah Fazel) and his hijab-wearing sister, Aminah (Nadia Lamin). Somehow, Thomas must find a way to tell Sarah of his new life as a revert to Islam and his relationship with the religion and the local community.
Becoming Mohammed completely blindsided me as a production. For starters, considering the subject matter, there was a lot more humour than I was expecting. This was a good thing as there were times when the emotion could potentially have been overwhelming, especially at the end of the first act. The production is based on a true story and Writer Claudia Marinaro and Director Annemiek van Elst have obviously worked hard to make the play as realistic as possible both in language and in setting. Speaking of setting, I was completely entranced by Bex Kemp’s set design which, when mixed with Rachel Sampley’s lighting made for a very impressive performance space that seemed to add to the narrative. On the story, it flowed extremely well, and my one minor gripe is that I don’t think the character of Musa was developed enough. While I had my doubts about him in the first act, his actions in the second didn’t really sit right with me. However, that was a small matter and all four characters came together well.
Contrary to acquired belief about the more traditional Muslim woman, the character of Aminah was, for me at least the strongest, both in terms of character and acting. She really came into her own in Act II and her control of the squabbling siblings was really lovely to watch and, let’s be honest, anyone that loves Beyonce is OK by me. Some fine characterisation by Jonah Fazel. The hardest job was probably playing Sarah, the outsider in Tom’s new world and Philippa Carson really pulled it off in style. As did Jack Hammett playing Tom. His enthusiasm for his new found religion and his naive belief that he could single-handedly change bigoted opinion about Islam really came across well and, while I found his almost childlike enthusiasm annoying at times, the acting was definitely first rate.
Overall, then Becoming Mohammed is a first rate story brought to life by a cracking team. Without being too in your face, it explores the clashes that can occur when cultures clash and families are at loggerheads with each other. There is never going to be an easy answer to situations like those crafted in Becoming Mohammed but as a way of starting a dialogue, it can’t be faulted.
Review by Terry Eastham
Inspired by director Annemiek Van Elst’s experiences of her brother converting to Islam, the world premiere of Becoming Mohammed comes to Pleasance Theatre. The play explores what it takes for a Western man to become a Muslim, and for his family to come to terms with his choice.
When Sara knocks on her brother’s door after two years, she hardly recognises the man in front of her. Thomas has grown a beard, gets up at the crack of dawn, and dates a girl in a Hijab. They attempt to rekindle their childhood friendship, but Thomas hasn’t told his sister everything yet…
Becoming Mohammed has been created in direct consultation with Islamic communities in both London and Rotterdam, and is being supported by a cultural facilitator, Nabihah Islam. In an effort to open up a dialogue and understanding between Western and Islamic communities, half of all performances will begin with a short forum theatre workshop. The company will also host post-show Q&As on Friday evenings and will share their research interviews with reverts and Islamic leaders online.
Director Annemiek van Elst
Writer Claudia Marinaro
Producer Hannah Tookey
Designer Bex Kemp
Costume Design Bex Kemp
Facilitator Nabihah Islam
Illustrator & graphic designer Daniela Pinheiro
Performance dates Tuesday 2nd – Sunday 21st May 2017
Post- show talks Find out more at https://www.pleasance.co.uk/.
Running time 90 minutes
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