A BRITISH SUBJECT
by Nichola McAuliffe.
Arts Theatre 6-7 Great Newport Street WC2H 7JB To 26 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7907 7092.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 November.
Faith, in several forms, and individual effort make an inspiriting story.
A tabloid journalist, the Prince of Wales and a Catholic saint make an unlikely trio of heroes for a modern drama. But all come into play in Nichola McAuliffe’s account of the efforts by herself and her Daily Mirror journalist husband to do a good deed in a naughty world, despite the indifference of officialdom and some individual liberal worthies. The final effect is one of individuality rather than oddness.
McAuliffe’s recounts the campaign to rescue a British Asian arrested for murder in Pakistan (actually, it’s asserted, self-defence) because he showed his Pakistani rather than British passport. Her play’s three sections start with her husband Don Mackay’s rapid-action visit to the country and his wading through the huge prison’s vast bureaucracy.
This wraps around the sustained, quiet scene where the prisoner Mirza Tahir Hussain, habituated to the stinking midden of Rawalpindi prison, almost half his life spent sharing a minute cell, comes clutching his plastic sanitary bucket, finding conversation a struggle.
The easy use of space, and emotional dingdongs between Nichola and Don, and the lively optimism of Tahir’s brother, with his faith in crusading British journalism – Shiv Grewal also provides some comic cameo officials and a prison governor impressed by Don’s cover as a teacher – contrast Kulvinder Ghir’s sustained calm as Tahir, accepting his fate and a series of stays-of-execution with “calm of mind, all passion spent”.
David Rintoul’s Don listens sympathetically, but is soon exploding with anger when his editor rejects the story – reality TV sells newspapers, not real-life stories about faraway people. In the third section, Nichola campaigns by ‘phone and letter, between interceding with St Jude, patron of lost causes. Finally cutting through officialdom to reach royalty, the individual voice makes its impact.
Structurally, it can be a bit of a bumpy ride, different theatre styles being raided for various parts of the story. But a man who might have been dead or stuck in a hopeless cell, instead spent last night watching his own story. It’s to be hoped he enjoyed it as much as many of his fellow-spectators found it gripping and inspiriting.
Cast: Kulvinder Ghir, Shiv Grewal, Nichola McAuliffe, David Rintoul.
Director: Hannah Eidinow.
Designer: Christopher Richardson.
Lighting: Mark Jonathan.
Sound: Tom Lishman.