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The Incident at Canada Water Theatre | Review

The Incident (c) Joe Twigg
The Incident (c) Joe Twigg

The Incident needs to decide what it wants to be as a play. Does it want to say something about what happens in a cross-border relationship where Jan Larsson (David Weiss) and Monica Moyo (Cassandra Hercules) must get used to not only living with one another but accommodating each other’s backgrounds and personalities? Or does it want to focus on the apparent failings in the Swedish education system, where teachers are being put under so much strain that many leave the profession? The latter would, given the relative universality of love, and therefore the relative ubiquity of plays and productions that explore love in its various forms, make the play stand out.

Monica is invited to teach at a school where Jan is some sort of senior teacher, though she does not, as it later turns out, have any teaching qualifications. When Jan progresses to headteacher level in a different part of the country, another invitation is extended to Monica to teach there: which is bizarre, on two counts. Firstly, it is only because I was persuaded to stay for a post-show talk that I discovered that having non-teachers (if I can call them that without being derogatory) on the teaching staff is a regular occurrence in Sweden, such is the teacher shortage there, leaving schools in a moral dilemma. The production needs to explain this better within the play itself. Secondly, is it healthy for both parties in a relationship to share a workplace as well as a home?

Monica’s experiences of what she believes to be a racist society start to smack of victimisation – however vicious the slurs are, could it really be possible that someone of her intellect (she is a PhD candidate) would start to believe that everyone is out to get her? As the story develops, it becomes slightly easier to sympathise with her point of view. However, the plotline just gets weirder, and the investigative processes and procedures in the aftermath of ‘the incident’ of the show’s title (in which nobody died) are not set out as clearly as they could have been.

Whether it was intentionally comical, I couldn’t possibly say, but there’s a scene at home where Monica is massaging Jan before he suddenly sits up and decides to go into detail about the miscellaneous challenges faced by schools in Sweden. It may be indicative of those who are so career-minded they really can seldom if ever, switch off and relax, but this does not apply here: Jan is the one encouraging Monica to accompany him on weekend breaks away, and it is she who is resistant, albeit with some justification.

The set is static – the floor in every scene is the same, for instance, whether at home, at the school or elsewhere. Props are few and far between: two small trunks from which the majority of the couple’s clothes are stored double up as chairs. A part of me thinks it may as well have been a completely ‘black box’ production if the focus was to be on the dialogue and storytelling. There are quite a few topics brought out in this single-act production, including the balance of power in the modern classroom, intercultural dynamics within a relationship and the role of social media in a case of ‘trial by Facebook’.

But breath is not matched by depth, and the production comes across as something a little hurried. Here’s the thing: to substantially engage with one issue is better than skimming through half a dozen or more. With some streamlining to the script, this play could become something more meaningful. As it is, it does get its audiences thinking, with something to discuss on the Tube home.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Incident is an award-winning theatrical performance written by Swedish playwright Joakim Daun, which asks whether love can keep two people together when the stakes are raised and tackles belonging, migration, racism and power through an intimate love story spanning Sweden and Zimbabwe.

Why do I have to represent a whole race when I just want to represent me?
How ‘progressive’ are people really, when they’re confronted with difficult choices? How far are people willing to go to understand people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds? The Incident explores the realities of living in a different culture, far from family, support, and tradition. It takes a closer at who we allow to belong in our societies and what it means to be an ambitious, non-white woman in a mostly white male-dominated society.

The Incident
October 16th – 19th, Canada Water Theatre
October 21st, Poplar Union

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