Writer: Danusia Samal
Director: Tanuja Amarasuriya
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Consistently championing new writing, Theatre503 is a springboard for many young playwrights and over the years the theatre has produced a number of brilliant plays. Out of Sorts, its latest offering, is one of the best for some time.
Danusia Samal’s play follows two days in the life of Zara, the daughter of Arabic immigrants, living a double life. In the flat she shares with her old uni friend Alice, she drinks and parties, but when she goes to visit her parents she pretends she is still praying, and still preparing her wedding with Jamil. We meet her the morning after she’s split up with him.
To keep her play topical, Samal doesn’t specify the country from which Zara’s family fled, but with the mention of Saddam Hussein it’s possible that these people are Kurds, under attack once more. Zara’s family are also caught between two lives; that of their adopted country, of which they are citizens now, and of their homeland. They moan about English food, but are happy, with no desire to return.
On the night that Alice is throwing a party to celebrate her promotion to partner in a law firm, Zara goes home to see her family, and perhaps confess that her engagement is over. Cleverly, both living spaces – Alice’s flat, and Zara’s family home – are presented on stage at the same time. It’s an engaging way to keep the action slick, and occasionally funny as actors step into sets reserved for others. Also, and again cleverly, there are some time shifts in the play, keeping the audience on its toes.
The play has many strands – perhaps too many – but under Tanuja Amarasuriya’s direction, they are all presented smoothly. Ideas of ethnicity are explored through Zara’s sister’s rejection of a British life, and through Anthony, white Alice’s black boyfriend. There are acts of racism against Zara’s father, and Anthony too. Illness also runs through the play with Zara’s mother’s cancer returning. At times, Out of Sorts does seem too issue driven.
Sometimes subjects such are these are explored in soap operas, and there is one scene in Samal’s play that seems lifted from TV shows such as these, ‘the baby monitor eavesdropping moment’. However, because of what Zara hears, this scene moves quickly from comedy to horror. And it’s a credit to all of the actors that they carry these slightly clumsy plot devices.
As Zara, Nalân Burgess is very good, giving glimmers of her true state-of-mind under the different personas she forced to become. As Fatima, Oznur Cifci is excellent, too, also caught between two worlds, as her different accents testify. Her disdain for her sister is comical, not realising that she is perhaps just as British. Emma Denly gives Alice, a calmness that comes through privilege, and yet she is real enough for our sympathy. In the first half, the actors are required to keep up the pace, but this often means that the actors are failing to react, too ready with their own lines. These early scenes need to be slowed down a little, if we are to find them entirely convincing.
However, the pace does slacken and the last ten minutes or so are truly moving, and surprisingly tender. Overall, Out of Sorts is a fine play with lots to say.
Runs until 2 November 2019 | Image: Helen Murray