The Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam. Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 to 14 January 2023. 4****. William Russell.

Funny and perceptive this is exactly the kind of play that beleaguered theatres like Hampstead exist to put on – it would never find a home in today’s West End. Maybe it does not quite survive the transatlantic crossing but Karam’s subject about the problems facing Joseph and Charles, Lebanese brothers living in a Maronite community are universal and the one most pressing as far as Joseph is concerned, getting medical treatment, is all too topical here at the moment although we have not quite reached the state in which survival depends on health insurance. Joseph is 29, and works for a wealthy widow who runs a publishing group through which he is trying to get the insurance for the treatment he needs – a one time runner his knees are a mess and he has a bad back. His brother Charles was born with one ear and has an artificial second ear made from bits of his body. They are both gay to the despair of the uncle Bill, who is confined to a wheelchair. He see this as the end of the family line – they are allegedly descended from rge writer of a boo called The Prophet. The play opens as their father is killed when the car he is driving smashes into a model deer placed in the road by the local high school top jock Vin. The community being what it is the judge decides to postpone his community service sentence until after the high school games are completed. Into the fray comes a prying television reporter on the make who, it turns out, was a runner at a rival college and knows Charles. Meanwhile Gloria, who cares only for herself, has decided there is a book in Charles’ ancestry. All hell duly breaks loose – and very funny it is too. Maybe not all the surprises are all that surprising, but they work well enough and the strong cast come up trumps under director Beijan Shabani. Charles’s dismissal of the treacherous reporter is one choice moment. There is a clever set with two doors, one small, one large through which the furniture for the series of scenes all based on the titles of the chapters of ancestor perhaps Khalil Gibran’s book come and go. The play shows how difficult it is to have an identity in a land where you were born but your parents or grandparents were not, a land where some people tend to think they are what their ancestors were – the Kennedys let us say were Irish as is Biden. Yet they have never been to the land of their forefathers and think of themselves as Americans which is not how others who consider themselves American see them. Think of the children of the children of the Windrush Britons. It all works slickly, there is plenty to think about afterwards, and the playing cannot be faulted. The scene where the community council meet to hear what the boy who caused the accident and Joseph and his brother and uncle have to say is a delightfully wicked send up of local government anywhere.

Vin: Raphael Akuwudike.

Physician’s assistant, Doctor Manor, Board Member: Holly Atkins.

Gloria: Juliet Cowan.

Timothy: Jack Holden.

Bill: Raad Rawi.

Joseph: Irfan Shamji.

Charles:Erik Sirakian.

Ticket Agent, Board Member, Mrs McAndrews: Sue Wallace.

Director: Bijan Sheibani.

Designer: Samal Blak

Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles.

Sound Designer: Giles Thomas.

Movement Directio: Aline David.

Accent and Voice Coach: Richard Ryder.

Production photographs: Marc Brenner.

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