THE PRESIDENT AND THE PAKISTANI
by Rashid Razaq.
Waterloo East Theatre Brad Street SE1 8TG To 4 November 2012.
Tue–Sat 7.30pm Sun 4 pm.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0207 928 0060.
Review: William Russell 11 October.
Barry and Sal plus Charlie.
Apparently in 1985 the young Barak Obama spent some time in New York living in Harlem, looking for a job and sharing a flat with a Pakistani immigrant. He was pretty broke at the time.
Playwright Rashid Razaq has taken this fact – it is mentioned in Obama’s autobiography, albeit briefly – and turned it into a fascinating picture of a clash of cultures, beliefs and growing up; portraits of a man on his way to a golden future and one facing something much less glittering.
The action takes place as Barry and his flat mate Sal, for the purposes of the play a waiter in an Indian restaurant, are packing up to move to another apartment. They have been evicted for not paying the rent. But Barry has a secret. He is not moving on with Sal to the new place. He has a job to go to in Chicago as a community relations officer and Sal is not coming along for the ride.
For Sal, a drug addict, incurable romantic and illegal immigrant, Barry is a friend for life. As he’s also incapable of ever telling the whole truth about anything he is arguably the flatmate from hell, so why the two ended up together is one of those things.
It seems, however, that when Barry was homeless Sal had taken him in and now hopes, since he thinks Barry has got a job on Wall Street, that he will go along as his assistant.
The two men argue; Sal cannot understand why Barry is turning his back on the world of finance, fast cars and fast women. Barry leaves the door open and Sal’s beloved dog Charlie escapes. He goes to find the dog – too many lines about looking for Charlie perhaps – and returns with a head wound. Then Barry finds the injured dog in the road apparently hit by a car.
But what really happened? And what does the glib, self-assured Barry learn from it all? He rubbishes New York as a city in downfall and knows why Harlem 1985 is as it is – or does he?
The playing by both actors is assured, although Junaid Faiz as Sal might modify the volume a bit – it is a tiny theatre. Syrus Lowe as Barry, however, gets it right. Tom Attenborough has directed the piece in the round in an unflashy way and the current race for the White House lends it all added interest.
Barry Obama: Syrus Lowe.
Sal Maqbool: Junaid Faiz.
Director: Tom Attenborough.
Designer: Francesca Reidy.
Lighting: Joshua Carr.
Sound: Victoria Wilkinson.