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Cry Havoc review at Park Theatre, London – ‘clunky and didactic’

James El Sharawy and Marc Antolin in Cry Havoc at the Park Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

There are some intriguing ideas underscoring American playwright Tom Coash’s study of a gay relationship in present day Cairo.

Mohammed, fresh from a prison sentence for “immoral acts”, retreats to his small apartment where his lover Nicholas, a well-intentioned British writer, provides tenderness amid the brutality. But his attempts to persuade Mohammed to return with him to Britain soon become a fault line between them. The more Nicholas presses his case, including attempting to secure a precious visa, the more Mohammed resists, taking issue with what he perceives as a “white saviour” attitude.

Coash makes salient points about the long shadows of colonialism, religion and the meaning of nationhood. The tension between the two men embodies a much deeper and resonant cultural divide. There are admirable performances too from James El-Sharawy and Marc Antolin in the central roles.

But the script fizzles rather than fizzes. It also contains strange inconsistencies – for example Mohammed knows of Somerset Maugham and Oscar Wilde, but has apparently never heard of Robinson Crusoe – and the writing is didactic to the point of banality. None of the characters ever quite ring true. That is not to diminish the arguments they represent, which are large in scope and importance. But it feels more like a debate than a love story.

Pamela Schermann’s clunky staging does little to help matters. The many blackouts sap far too much energy out of proceedings.

Like Nicholas himself, the play is full of the best intentions but difficult to love. Ultimately, there is little here that either furthers debate or inspires appropriate empathy for two men in a desperate situation.

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Clunky and didactic culture clash love story set in modern-day Cairo