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Alkaline by Stephanie Martin at Park Theatre | Review

(L-R) EJ Martin, Claire Cartwright and Nitin Kundra. Photo credit Mathew Foster
(L-R) EJ Martin, Claire Cartwright and Nitin Kundra. Photo credit Mathew Foster

There’s a lot of ground covered in Alkaline, in which a wide range of political views and opinions are expressed, but it mostly came across as rather contrived. Nick (Alan Mahon) namedrops both Trump and Brexit (or did he mention Brexit first?) without much further development, partly because of the social atmosphere that having guests and beers around tends to create, and partly because his partner Sophie (EJ Martin) puts a stop to him speaking his mind. His rebuttal restores equilibrium, however. To begin with, Nick seems the immature one and Sophie a sort of Little Miss Responsible – by the end, without giving too much away, they come across as quite different.

Then there’s Sarah (Claire Cartwright), a convert to the Muslim faith, who is going out with Ali (Nitin Kundra), separated from Aleesha (Reena Lalbhihari). There’s little to discover about Islam in the play, which seems to concentrate more on Sophie’s sheer ignorance. Out of curiosity, I had a look at the Home Office section of HM Government’s website. I couldn’t find what Sophie claimed to find – namely, details about female converts to Islam being ‘groomed’. There is information about grooming, but it is about resources to “combat the online grooming of children for sexual exploitation”. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, awkward moments periodically occur, each one progressively more awkward than the previous one, such that I found myself anticipating when the next faux pas or problematic situation would arise. The set is kept simple, with the vast majority of the action taking place in the front room. Upstage left was a door to the back garden, the said garden being a useful place to escape to whenever someone physically and figuratively needed a little space. The front room is functional and relatively well-furnished.

Some details in the dialogue steadily, if unsubtly, build up a picture of apparent champagne liberalism (as opposed to champagne socialism, which isn’t really what goes on here) and what it means to belong to a nominally Muslim family. I say ‘nominally’ quite deliberately – Ali is either going through or about to commence divorce proceedings with Aleesha, and drinks a decent amount of beer. Hardly the behaviour of a hard-line fundamentalist. But the character development that starts to build as Sophie raises question after question is soon stifled by a frustrated Ali who would rather not go into too many personal details, thank you very much.

Hence the political discussions instead, as both hosts and guests wish to keep the conversation flowing. But the switch from talking about family life to current affairs is so sudden that it feels disjointed. The various difficulties that arise from Ali’s complicated love life (and thus family life) proved intriguing as the play explored them, and the show’s critical incident, involving an off-stage character, served a useful purpose in highlighting a number of issues still further.

There are some good ideas in the play, but it needs some finessing because it doesn’t flow as well as smoothly as it could. The plot is not consistently compelling enough to elicit much if any, sympathy for any of the characters – the cheated-on Aleesha, the hen-pecked Nick, the headscarf-sporting Sarah, the over-anxious Sophie, the laid-back Ali. The play’s title arises from a feeling on Sarah’s part that acid was metaphorically consuming her – an embrace of organised religion has led her to become ‘alkaline’. Others who have a faith will find comfort in a character who appears to have wilfully rejected a secular worldview, an aspect of the play that could have been further explored.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sophie and Sarah have been best friends forever. Sophie is newly engaged to her fiancé Nick and wants to celebrate. Sarah also has a new fiancé, Ali, and some more big news – she has recently converted to Islam.

One hot summer evening the two couples have a get together. Sophie is desperate to meet Ali and even more desperate to rescue her drifting friendship with Sarah. Sophie also wants to ask Sarah if she’ll take off her hijab for Sophie’s wedding – a headscarf ‘just won’t quite go’ with the other bridesmaids, and Sophie likes things to match. It’s all going well (ish) until an uninvited guest arrives with some news that turns the evening – and the couples’ lives – upside down.

Cast:
The role of Sarah will be played by returning Park Theatre actress, Claire Cartwright.
Nitin Kundra plays Sarah’s fiancé, Ali.
Reena Lalbihari plays Aleesha.
Alan Mahon and EJ Martin play dinner party hosts, Nick and Sophie.

pluck. productions in association with Park Theatre present the World Premiere of
Alkaline
By Stephanie Martin
Directed by Sarah Meadows
A Story About Faith, Friendship and Fear

LISTINGS
Alkaline
Park 90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 10 Jul – 04 August 2018
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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