Reviewed by Anastasia Raymond
It is rare to find an auditorium as engaged and committed to a piece of theatre as was the case at The Southwark Playhouse during Mohand and Peter. For a piece of theatre that began with two men playing Uno with an unsuspecting audience member as we took our seats, before flailing about in a series of traditional drama school exercises, the journey this piece took was entirely and unexpectedly brilliant. For the entire 70 minute performance, the actors, Mohand and Peter, were completely at ease, and right from the get go the relationship they struck with the audience was heart-warming; shouts of encouragement and admiration came thick and fast, and the playfulness onstage seemed to infect the audience, and soon we were cheering and clapping along with the actors as they created the Sudanese story in their minds.
The spirit of the piece lent itself well to the intimate and bare space of The Little Room, after all this was an exercise in make-believe, and functioned almost as a play within a play. I say almost because at no one time did it feel like the actors were unaware of their audience, and the fourth wall was not only broken, but it never seemed to exist in the first place. It was as if the energy of the make-believe journey to Sudan was so all-encompassing for Mohand and Peter that it had to be shared and expressed to and with the audience, and the mode chosen for this was as simple as child’s play.
However, within the seemingly fun and experimental physical play came real poignancy. This was not merely a display of basic drama games, but rather a piece sharing an important message about the life of a Sudanese immigrant, in which those of us who – like Peter – were White British audience members, had something important to learn. The obvious humour that came from Peter’s ignorance and very British worries about sun cream and over heating were entirely relatable and proved an effective foil for the inexperienced audience to align with. We, like Peter, were going through a journey, learning and challenging stereotypes, and all the while being guided by Mohand’s most skilfully crafted imagery of Sudan. Peter was played with a loveable openness and it was clear to see that the relationship between the two men extended way beyond the stage. Together they exuded joy and warmth, and this was what made the presentation of the story – which was primarily physical theatre and imaginary story telling – so successful.
But here’s what struck me most about the piece; tonight there were some audience members who obviously understood Arabic and perhaps themselves were Sudanese, and the way in which these audience members responded to Mohand’s character and the Arabic text was breathtaking. There was such enthusiasm for hearing their language onstage, and whilst the bilingual nature of the text could have alienated those of us who do not know Arabic, in fact it did entirely the opposite. Thanks to the outstanding acting of both Peter and Mohand, there was never a moment when the story was lost, and even when scenes were voiced entirely in Arabic, Mohand’s phenomenal characterisation and physicality paired with Peter’s educated-guesses at what was being said to him, helped to keep the story accessible. One scene in which this was particularly effective was when Peter was meeting Mohand’s family and Mohand took on the role of each family member in a repeating series of questions emulating the key value of Sudanese culture: family.
Throughout the piece the parallels between Mohand and Peter’s lives were apparent, and Peter’s dream-like monologue fantasising about his home in Newcastle proved to show that Sudan is not so different from Newcastle after all, and that no matter where it is, your home will always hold a special place in your heart. This piece in its physical yet political nature could have very easily been over-performed or preachy, and yet it was anything but. The performances were wonderfully rich, the movement was fun, highly skilled and infectious, and the use of Arabic throughout the piece positioned the audience perfectly in the place of the immigrant moving to a new home without advanced knowledge of the language. Tonight I laughed, I learnt and I felt inspired by the escapism of theatre and it’s ability to freely transport you to another world. It was a joyful experience, and one that I would highly recommend.
To read our interview with Peter click here.
Mohand & Peter will play at the Southwark Playhouse till Saturday 2nd April. For more information or to buy tickets click here.