BWW Review: DON'T LOOK AWAY, Pleasance Theatre
Adnan (Robert Hannouch) has just arrived in the UK from Syria. He escaped his home country and made his way across borders penniless but with a burning desire for survival.
He ends up in a community centre in Bradford at closing time and meets Cath (Julia Barrie), a cleaner, who decides to help him.
Don't Look Away is an uninspired play that presents a strong white saviour complex mixed with exasperating characters. Playwright Grace Chapman introduces two-dimensional roles lacking proper arcs in a riling narrative.
Cath is a mild and simple woman; her son Jamie (Brian Fletcher) is unbearably thankless and arrogant; Adnan is reduced to the caricatural shadow of a man seeking asylum.
The 90-minute piece is intended to be a response to the refugee crisis but is, in essence, an unsuccessful family drama with a side of immigration. It becomes a vanity trip, insensitive in its displays of sensitivity.
Director Nicholas Pitt adds a dash of allegoric imagery through his scene changes: the movement-led breaks have the actors get closer then further from each other, but fall flat and are tonally out of place.
Chapman's intentions are surely noble, but at this stage she offers cheap dialogue and a narrow view of the issue she attempts to tackle. Cath is merely trying to replace her son who, in the outcome of a messy divorce, decided to live with his father instead of her and cut off nearly all contact.
He then comes home a time after his dad's death to find that his mother has given out his room to a stranger. This slowly drags out all the privilege, preconceptions and hatred, but is never actively shut down or securely confronted, just as their backstory is never truly explored.
The shortcomings of the script have an obvious impact on the performers, who deliver what they're given but, unfortunately, don't particularly shine.
The writer seeks, however, to establish the vicious circle refugees are subjected to; the lack of money and impossibility to work without being granted asylum first, absurd bureaucratic expenses, loss of identity, and general hardships are all suggested, but don't land as soundly as they should.
Altogether, Don't Look Away is a substantially lacking show that displays a very strong white point of view, nearly erasing the driving element it promotes in order to lead a plot that largely focuses on unresolved family issues.
Photo credit: Ryan Cowan