Give Me the Sun reviewed by David James
Opening a play titled Give Me the Sun this week is like putting something out called 'Cough in My Face' at the height of COVID. It's not a great time to be sat inside a theatre, though this intriguing hour-long two-hander from Mamet Leigh and director Majid Mehdizadeh is worth a little sweat.
With a government struggling to enact an inhumane policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda and a media united in stoking public hatred for anyone with an accent who dares set foot on these shores, a story in which a second-generation immigrant yearns for a land they can only imagine comes at an opportune time.
In the rush to depict immigrants as parasites living on the taxpayer's dime, it seems to be forgotten that most would almost certainly rather not completely uproot their lives and undertake a potentially fatal journey across the world to a country ruled by politicians competing to say the most monstrous things they can get away with. But if it's short-term pain versus long-term safety then I can understand rolling the dice.
Give Me the Sun offers a perspective on this I hadn't seen before. Baba (Aso Sherabayani) emigrated to the U.K. from Egypt fifteen years ago and has tried to become as English as possible. He no longer speaks Arabic, is divorced from Egyptian culture, and - as the programme explains - "has decorated their council flat with a classic English interior".
Baba is doing his best for his son Bashir (Joseph Samimi), who arrived in England with him and only has hazy memories of Egypt. Now 18, he yearns to reconnect with his roots, presses his reluctant father for details of their life in Egypt, is upset that there's a language barrier between him and his extended family, and wishes he could return to a fondly imagined homeland where he might fit in.
As the show repeats a couple of times, Bashir feels like "dirt in water" between the earth and sky, neither English nor Egyptian.
The impasse between a father who's sacrificed so much to give his son freedom vs a son who can't ever appreciate that gift makes for juicy drama. Every decision made by the pair stems is right, but their differing perspectives mean they can't ever truly empathise with each anothers' lives.
It's a point of view I haven't seen elsewhere, fuelled by emotions I've never had to experience. It's a reminder that simply being comfortable in a cultural/national identity is an invisible privilege, one that some of the most victimised people in this country don't have.
But Give Me the Sun isn't just a thought experiment, it's also a decent piece of drama. Early on there's a technical fly in the ointment as the ventilation system making the first five minutes inaudible, but a few minutes in a member of staff mercifully switched it off and we could hear what's going on.
Both Samimi and Sherabayani have a casual familiarity with one another that makes their father/son relationship believable, which in turn cranks up the volume on the tense moments. An hour-long play isn't a lot of time to flesh out two characters, but each of them brings characterisation beyond what's already in the text.
My only real criticism is that the medical subplot comes across as a little extraneous. I don't really want to get into spoiler territory, but the characters indicating a pill bottle on the coffee table is like Chekhov making sure you absolutely notice that there's a loaded gun sat on the mantlepiece. Much of this play's power is that this is an average night in a regular house with normal people, so barreling into life and death territory feels unnecessary.
But these are quibbles. Give Me the Sun isn't some self-consciously worthy play about an 'important issue', it's a character piece that satisfyingly intersects with political and social issues. And that's very much my jam
Give Me the Sun is at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 16 July 2022. Tickets here.
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