Bush Theatre (venue)
26 November 2019 (released)
Bijan Sheibani (director of the The Barbershop Chronicles and Brothers Size) turns his hand to writing with a poised debut that tests the notion of brotherhood – and with it belonging - to breaking point.
The play begins as brothers Tom (Scott Karim) and Samad (Irfan Shamji) meet for the first time. It’s a momentous occasion for both men, though perhaps for different reasons.
The elder, Tom – put up for adoption by the same parents who would later keep Samad – assumes the big brother role with a near zealous passion that threatens to overwhelm his younger sibling.
Samad, though clearly mesmerised, is more tentative; soon becoming wary of how Tom’s arrival will affect the rest of the family, as well as his previously unchallenged role within it. But the guilt he carries – both as representative for the parents that gave up Tom, as well as being the child they in effect chose over him – leaves Samad tongue-tied and unable to put the brakes on the relationship Tom is insistent they’re destined to have.
A rivalry develops over the course of the play’s 70 minutes; initially half-glimpsed - in the gaps in their conversation and occasional suppressed sigh - but gradually bubbling to the surface, and with it dredging up the past. Both actors maintain this rising tension with performances of outstanding depth and subtlety, which also allow for lighter moments amongst the dark.
Sheibani continues his successful collaboration with movement director Aline David to underline this shifting balance of power, which plays out like a kind of waltz on Samal Blak’s sparse circular stage. At times the space between the brothers seems intractable, whilst during choreographed passages they move in perfect unison, soundtracked to James Blake’s echoing vocals.
There’s a final speech from Samad that felt slightly tacked on; no doubt a necessary thematic resolution, but it came across as rather incidental.
What stayed with me most was Tom’s sense of loss for the person he might’ve been if things had been different – whether biologically ‘real’ or imagined into reality after years of sacralising his genetic family. Much like Blake’s ethereal vocals, the unanswerable grief haunting us throughout the play and beyond.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner