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The Reluctant Fundamentalist review at the Yard Theatre, London – ‘raw and devastating’

Akshay Sharan and Laurence Bown in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Photo: Helen Maybanks Akshay Sharan and Laurence Bown in The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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On an empty, in-the-round stage, a Pakistani man called Changez tells us his life story: raised in Lahore, he won a scholarship to Princeton, got a job in a prestigious financial company in Manhattan, then terrorists flew into the World Trade Center and Changez began to feel “uncomfortable in his own face”.

Whereas Mohsin Hamid’s hit 2007 novel maintains the second person address throughout, Stephanie Street’s adaptation – part of the National Youth Theatre’s East End season – switches between apostrophe and scenes where Changez acts along with an eight-strong cast, the fourth wall being built and demolished over and over, like the borders and the barriers between East and West.

It’s in the moments of direct address, sometimes warm and inviting like the embrace of an old friend and sometimes accusatory as if we are on trial, that the production is on its strongest footing, thanks in no small part to a remarkable performance from Akshay Sharan.

His acute detail and sensitivity, seeming to speak to every audience member singly, pulls us along in the ebb and flow of his relationship to America; pride, ambivalence, disdain.

Prasanna Puwanarajah’s direction tugs in conflicting ways, but he brings the best out in these young performers, with a particularly outstanding scene at JFK airport after the September 11 attacks where Changez stands, arms outstretched and stripped to his boxers, as each of the white cast members in succession pats him down thoroughly, their hands in latex gloves. The silence and stillness of it, the clash between mustered dignity and its absence, is raw and devastating.

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Excellent central performance in this adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel from National Youth Theatre