Henry Naylor’s Borders is about two artists: Sebastian, a jobbing British photojournalist who sells out to shoot celebrities, and a daring Syrian graffiti artist who risks her life to spray-paint slogans denouncing Assad.
Deftly interweaving these two monologues, Naylor asks pertinent questions about the power of art, the responsibility of the artist, and the integrity of a society that only cares about refugees when Angelina Jolie tells it to.
Graham O’Mara – disturbingly defiant in Stuart Slade’s BU21 – is a superb Sebastian, a world-weary hack turned celebrity photographer, somewhere between Hugh Laurie and David Bailey, all rolled-up sleeves and tousled hair. Avital Lvova is equally good, investing her nameless Syrian street artist with a tense, watchful caution.
Their slowly converging stories are both compelling and convincingly rooted in gritty geopolitics. One senses that Naylor really knows what he’s talking about. But this is the fourth of his Arabian Nightmares (after 2014’s The Collector, 2015’s Echoes and 2016’s smash-hit Angel) and, at times, one wishes he would take more formal risks.
He’s a skilful and proficient producer of hurtling, end-on, unadorned monologues, but this is a form that has limits. And Borders – excellent though it is – doesn’t push them very far.