The Initiate

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review (theatre): The Initiate at Summerhall @ Roundabout (Venue 26A). Review by Joyce McMillan

Who do we mean, when we say “we”? Is it we in Scotland, or we in the UK, or we who come from the same ethnic and cultural background? In a society at peace, we can sustain any number of different identities, jostling comfortably side by side. When violence intervenes, though, the “we” question becomes much sharper; and in Alexandra Wood’s clever and disturbing new play, presented by Paines Plough at Summerhall, a Somalia-born taxi-driver living and working in London, proud of his still-fresh British citizenship, finds himself caught in a painful clash of identities when Somali pirates take a British couple hostage, and his sons are bullied at school because they look like the men involved.

Delmar feels bound to “do something”, to show that not all Somalis are murderous hostage-takers; but as a British citizen, he faces tough questions both about why he feels so involved in this case, and – once he arrives back in Somalia to try to negotiate the couple’s release – about how he will use the relative power of his position as a western passport-holder. In a series of dialogues with his boss, his son, his wife, his nephew in Somalia, the chief hostage-taker, and the couple themselves, Delmar emerges as a kind of everyman for troubled times, trying to survive between the grinding millstones of historical forces he cannot control.

And if Alexandra Wood’s play, in a dozen sharp scenes, feels slightly unresolved, like part of a larger whole, it nonetheless creates an intense, original and memorable play for today, with outstanding performances from Andrew French as Delmar, and from Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis as a range of characters, including the kidnapper who turns out to be a strange connoisseur of English idioms, particularly delighted by the idea that our most cherished dreams may be nothing but “pie in the sky”.

Until 23 August. Today 1:50pm, more info

Originally published in The Scotsman

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