Writer: Naylah Ahmed
Director: Helena Bell
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The atrocities of war are now felt far beyond the battlefield and not just by those directly involved in the fighting. When the First World War breached the borders of civilian exemption from conflict, everything changed and the concept of total war was born. Now, over a hundred years later, sometimes those atrocities take place not just in the mud and sand, but in small houses in nameless British towns as people attack the things they don’t understand.
Pat has done something stupid and is hiding from everyone who wants to contact her, even her anonymous online friends. In her living room is a young Muslim man strapped to a chair and gagged with tape, a man she is holding ransom for a crime he doesn’t yet know about. As the man begs for his freedom and tries to goad Pat into revealing her secrets, there’s a knock at the door because today is no ordinary day.
Naylah Ahmed’s new play is all about misinformation and how snippets of truth are presented as fact by a media hungry for sensationalist stories which in turn creates paranoia and fear in ordinary communities. Her three-character play, told largely in duologue, is at the top level about the consequences of the war in Afghanistan and its impact on the presentation of British Muslims, but in its domestic setting considers how essentially good people are driven to bad things on a small scale.
The first act is a series of scenes solely between Pat and the young man whose name she does not know (Yusuf, played by Adam Karim) all taking place on the same day. Her obsession with his “look” and her claim he is a “turban away from Bin Laden” are met with details of his asthma and nut allergy, as well as Pat’s life as a teacher. Naturally meandering some of this feels a little superfluous as the audience wait for something to happen and Pat’s real motive to be revealed.
Ahmed returns a couple of times to the idea that Yusuf has taken his religion at face value without any knowledge of his own to question it, which Pat begins to pursue and more of this interesting discussion would add value. Director Helena Bell allows the action to feel prolonged in this first section and the tension created by Pat’s evasions could be stronger. And it would help if all the characters didn’t repeat Pat’s name at the end of virtually every line which makes it feel stagey, as do the narrated letters from son Jack read by a smooth-voiced Ryan Early which feel out of kilter with the rest.
The arrival of Holly (Natasha Rickman) in Act Two takes the play in an entirely different direction, away from the tensions of religion and into the personal consequences of war. Here Ahmed’s writing feels firmer and the emotion of the characters begins to come alive as they discuss their mutual grief. But the two halves do feel different with their eventual merging seeming alarmist and unlikely given the character-traits we have observed.
Joan Blackham gives a convincing sense that Pat has locked herself away from the world, driven into a frenzy by media reports, but Blackham also shows her losing control of the situation as the day progresses and cracking under pressure. Karim’s Yusuf is a likeable and sympathetic presence as he tries various tactics to escape Pat’s home, but his last-minute about-face seems contrived and unconvincing, while Rickman is the voice of reason as Holly.
Ready or Not has valuable points to make about the conflation of “facts” in our minds that allow us to mistakenly assume a shared religion means people on different continents want the same things. Its nicely incongruous set-up – an OAP with a hostage – is an intriguing one that creates a number of dramatic possibilities, and while the war in Afghanistan may have officially ended, it’s still far from over on the domestic front.
Runs until 29 April 2017 | Image: Robert Day