Thursday, 25 October 2012

The President and the Pakistani - review

Written by: Lils (@LilyKG)

Waterloo East Theatre, London

With approximately a fortnight to go, the world is currently waiting with baited breath as Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney go head-to-head in the US presidential election. But take a trip to Waterloo East Theatre before November 4th and you’ll be transported to a flat in Harlem in the early 80s; there to meet ‘Barry’ Obama, a hopeful, young graduate from Columbia University, whose dreams of presidency were not even fully realised yet.

Based on actual events in his life, The President and the Pakistani sees a young Obama (depicted by Syrus Lowe) living with friend, and illegal immigrant, Sal Maqbool (Junaid Faiz). As their tenancy comes to an end and Sal’s dog goes missing, the pair confront each other about their conflicting ambitions, views on drugs and general outlook on life; all interwoven with an endearing sense of humour.  However, although the story is intriguing and transfixing, the dialogue seemed unnatural in places and certain directorial choices missed the mark.

In everyday life, it’s very unusual to constantly address the person  you’re speaking to by name – especially when it’s just the two of you – but this is a fact that playwright Rashid Razaq doesn’t appear to pay attention to. With almost every other line ending in a character name, the dialogue started to seem strained and unrealistic; a shame when, otherwise, the relationship created by Lowe and Faiz was so believable. The two bounced off each other with wonderful energy and emotion, making their performances a pleasure to watch. Faiz in particular evoked a great deal of empathy for the conflicted Sal.

I cannot go on without mentioning a, quite frankly, bizarre transition. At the conclusion of the first scene, I was suddenly confronted by Obama lip-syncing and gesticulating to 80s rap music, complete with disco lights and glowing cardboard boxes. Many of the audience exchanged awkward giggles as we tried to determine whether or not we were supposed to find this amusing – I still can’t be sure what on earth was going on, but the transition was jarring and unnecessary.  

The venue was very well suited to this two-hander, and the space of the studio theatre was utilised effectively and interestingly. The prop dog could have been more realistic, but suspending my disbelief in favour of connecting with the story was not difficult to do thanks to the emotion on display from the cast.

Despite a few strange decisions, The President and the Pakistani is a charming production and well worth a watch. It reminds its audience of the excitement surrounding Obama’s election, whilst providing a glimpse of the journey that took him there.     

This production runs until 4 November 2012. 
@waterlooeast @presidentplay

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