Writer: Rashid Razaq
Director: Tom Attenborough
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
The Public Reviews Rating:
This new eighty five minute play by Rashid Razaq is set in 1985s Harlem, at what was arguably the height of its crime wave and drug wars. Newly graduated from Columbia University an impoverished “Barry” Obama – the accomplished Syrus Lowe – is lodging with an illegal Pakistani immigrant, Sal Maqbool – relative newcomer Junaid Faiz – who is working as a waiter in an Indian restaurant. The latter has a rather unlikely pet, for a presumed Muslim, a dog named Charlie.
The play opens as the two are packing their haphazard collection of belongings into boxes as they have been evicted from their flat. It is obvious from the disparity of the items that the two characters have little in common except the need for a roof over their heads. The two get on pretty well until a change of circumstance and Charlie’s disappearance alter everything, their relationship included. Eventually their true characters are revealed, the huge differences between them exposed and foresight of their future lives suggested in the here and now.
Director Tom Attenborough has divided the action into three sections with scenes of wild nightclub dancing by the two characters to the accompaniment of loud rap music. Tim Johanson has gathered a talented team for the production: designer Francesca Reidy has cornered the market in large cardboard boxes, using them not only as packing cases which double as furniture but also as shades directing Joshua Carr’s evocative lighting. And Victoria Wilkinson keeps what could be overpowering music in such a confined space to an acceptable level, as the intimacy of this two-year-old theatre under the railway arches of Waterloo is ideally suited for this two-hander.
The story ends with the election of President Obama, supported – albeit at a distance – by his former flatmate, fast-forwarding this journey through time. How much is based on historical fact and how much on supposition is debatable but it all adds up to a thoughtful and thought provoking evening.