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There Is a Field review at Theatre503, London – ‘complex and compelling’

Fabrizio Santino and Sam Frenchum in There Is a Field at Theatre503, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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Taking its title from a Rumi poem about forgiveness, There Is a Field is a bold but often clumsy attempt to address serious issues around radicalisation, religious and racial tension, and faith.

Commissioned by Synergy Theatre Project, a company that makes work with current and former prisoners, the story centres on an ex-drug addict turned Islamic fundamentalist.

The play, by actor and author Martin Askew, has the feel of a gritty soap opera, and not only because of its East End setting and escalating, increasingly forced revelations. Director Esther Baker gives it all an arch, overblown staging that sees characters pointedly swivelling their eyes and leering through every confrontation.

For all that, the show tightens up sharply in the second half, where some well-judged humour and believable vulnerabilities begin to show through.

Sam Frenchum is strong as new convert Mark, blinded to his own hypocrisies by his desperate need to believe in something beyond his mediocre life. Sarah Finigan plays his mother Maureen with the right mix of bolshy brassiness and helplessness, as she struggles to pull her chaotic family together in time for her husband’s funeral. Caught between them, Archie Backhouse gives kind-hearted family friend Saleh an air of quiet gentleness that repeatedly saves him from his mounting frustrations.

On a mostly bare stage, designers Katy McPhee and Patrick Bill make a visually arresting statement about modern, multicultural England, with a stylised backdrop in which monochrome estate towers and minarets emerge over the dome of a vividly green hill.

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Overwrought family drama that doesn’t shy away from its complex and compelling themes