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Alkaline review at Park Theatre, London – ‘level-headed’

Claire Cartwright, EJ Martin and Nitin Kundra in Alkaline at Park Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Sophie has been friends with Sarah for years. She’s going to be a bridesmaid at her upcoming wedding. Naturally Sophie’s keen to meet Sarah’s new boyfriend, Ali. She and her fiancé Nick invite them over for drinks so they can get a look at him. But underscoring the evening is Sophie’s unease with the fact that Ali is Muslim, not to mention a father of three who’s still in the process of separating from his wife, and Sarah has converted to Islam.

Stephanie Martin is particularly good at evoking the societal awkwardness that often results when people discuss race and privilege, especially as Sophie knocks back the sauvignon blanc and her slightly iffy views on immigration start to surface.

But Alkaline resists the urge to demonise any of the characters in a way that feels both creditable and dramatically restrictive. A potential flashpoint – Sophie’s request that Sarah not wear her hijab at the wedding – is nervously laughed away. Director Sarah Meadows doesn’t milk as much tension from the situation as she might and the late arrival of Ali’s wife results not in explosions but in more heartfelt talk.

Georgia de Grey’s slick set makes good use of the Park’s small studio space, Sarah’s feelings about her faith and the reasons behind her conversion are handled with care and nuance and the portrait of two friends and the loss they feel at growing apart is nicely conveyed by EJ Martin as the uptight Sophie and Claire Cartwright as the more relaxed Sarah – their relationship is the most interesting one in the play. But the drama never escalates, the play never shifts gears.

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An intriguing if almost too level-headed play about faith and friendship