BWW Review: THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, The Yard Theatre
Featuring the majority of its original cast from the 2016 Finborough debut, Prasanna Puwanarajah's production tells a glorious story of hope and heartache. Focusing on the 'other', the play places focus on how we divide individuals within society, examining representation and prejudice in post 9/11 New York.
Based on the 2007 Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novel by Mohsin Hamid, Stephanie Street's adaptation received critical acclaim when it debuted last year. Now, The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one of the three shows making up National Youth Theatre's East End Season.
Akshay Sharan plays protagonist Changez, a hardworking international student from Pakistan who given the opportunity to study in the US on a full scholarship, and whose gradual rise through the ranks of a Manhattan valuation firm is tempered with Western disillusionment.
Sharan begins by speaking directly to the audience, a motif that continues throughout, and at one point the spectators are offered samosas and tea. Sharan is engaging, his charm alluring, and he delivers the text with emotional depth.
Alice Harding is equally strong as American writer Erica. Despite being a delicate performer, Harding still manages to command the stage. Suffering from depression and on medication, Erica is emotionally shut off. Harding's sensitive portrayal highlights themes of loss and love, giving the audience an insight into her struggle.
There is a strong connection between the pair and their scenes together are some of the most interesting. Changez is infatuated with Erica, yet she doesn't have the capability to love anyone since the death of her boyfriend.
Upon his departure to Manila, Erica warns Changez, "Don't get into any trouble," foreshadowing his humiliating strip search carried out by a customs officer. Reece Miller plays this silent figure, and his dehumanising examination intensely conveys the reality many people face.
The ensemble supports the action throughout, although some decisions from Punwanarajah seem weirdly slotted in. It's confusing as to why members of the cast balance teacups on their heads at one point during the play, and the American accents aren't always correct. Not every scene is interesting; at times the stakes don't seem high enough, and despite only lasting 90 minutes, the play seems to drag on.
However, The Reluctant Fundamentalist does pose the question of whether audiences should be passive receivers of information or participants in active exchanges. It also rejects any negative associations with the term 'youth theatre' - despite being below 25 years of age, each actor handles every complex issue with delicacy, delivering his or her part with a rooted maturity. Once again the National Youth Theatre has proven that it's a company committed to producing ensembles of raw talent.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist at The Yard Theatre until 12 August
Photo Credit: Helen Murray