Moormaid – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Marion Bott

Director: Zois Pigadas

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Funny, intriguing, almost romantic but with a spike that jabs us into a high state of alert. Tackling the awkward subject of a (potentially) reformed terrorist coming back to his hometown seeking absolution and peace, Marion Bott’s super story is a mix of many factors, and is balanced just right to bring out the best in each.

Melissa is an art professor, clearly not enjoying her job anymore. Lacking inspiration and drive, and lacking love from her short marriage, she’s about to hang from the ceiling when she’s stopped by a knock at the door late at night. Mehdi has returned, after a two-year absence, along with his ghosts and baggage, to her doorstep and rekindles her curiosity for life and art. The ghost of Mehdi’s friend, Khan, is walking through Melissa’s apartment with Mehdi, seen only by him. When it becomes clear what Mehdi has been doing for the last two years, however, things change and the play moves into a more philosophical gear.

Smart writing throughout means the audience is kept right there alongside the characters as this complex emotional situation plays out. Khan has died in what seems to be a terror attack after murdering a child – blaming Mehdi for leaving him. It’s a shocking detail, the start of a host of other intense revelations and phrases that Bott slips into the text. Examining the character of a nearly-repentant terrorist is quite a task to set oneself, but it’s measured, feels real rather than performative and certainly introduces a novel element into the mind when considering the people behind these mass and individual atrocities.

There are a few moments where it feels like the script slips into modern cod-psychology about truth and art and life, but it moves on into something much better. The movement of this piece is superb, movement coach Jess Tucker-Boyd has done a great job. the way Melissa and Mehdi’s bodies roll and interact with each other during an explanation of the creation of man, woman and, the androgyne is fantastic.

Between the underlying story of the man showing up out of the blue two years late for dinner, the woman who may still love him, the terrorist narrative and the redemptive ending there is a lot going on in the 80 minutes of performance. All three actors (Sarah Alles as Melissa, Moe Bar-el as Mehdi and Ali Azhar as Khan) are making their professional UK stage debut – a start anyone on stage should be proud of.

Runs until 19 May 2018 | Image: Anika Wagner.


Review Overview

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Punchy and challenging

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