Farzana Dua Elahe by John Haynes
Testing the Echo @ Playhouse
By site contributor Carole Baldock
A challenging piece of work for both the audience and the actors, Carole Baldock experiences the touching and riveting Testing the Echo at the Playhouse.
We don’t tend to ask questions when we think we won’t like, or understand, the response. Yet plays should raise questions, though there may be no answers. Here, it seems that as far as some things are concerned, most of us do not in fact have a clue. From the people who thought up the idea of a citizenship test and composed the literature to precisely what this country is or should be, from immigrants first entering the UK to Britons encountering different cultures and creeds. For ESOL teacher, Emma (Teresa Banham), mostly adored by her enthusiastic class, who hail from all corners, it is how to deal with one particular student.
Sirin Saba and Syrus Lowe by John Haynes
Staging is basic: tables and chairs, suggesting classroom, workplace, dining room, bedroom, basement, while a large video screen backdrop enhances the action, if not entirely enlightening it, showing footage and postings from a forum debating citizenship. The play unfolds rapidly with such noise and confusion and so many short scenes, at first it is like flicking through a photo album; you do not get much chance to see the whole picture. But if demanding on the audience, just so on the actors, not only constantly switching character but also language: Greek; Korean; Arabic etc. The cast prove themselves equal to the task, frequently above and beyond the call of duty, particularly Ian Dunn and Robert Gwilym, Kirsty Bushell (Tetyana) and Farzana Dua Elahe (Muna), while the duel between Emma (Teresa Banham) and Nasim (Sirine Saba) is riveting.
Stories slowly emerge, although not all of them are resolved. Or comprehended, in the case of Jamal (Syrus Lowe) and Mahmood, a junkie (Sushil Chadasama). But you can sympathise with Emma’s frustration; there’s a touch of the ‘Oleanna’ about Nasim, whose fanaticism sometimes appears to be based on spite. As for Chong (Ian Dunn), his workmates’ bullying eventually gives way to teasing because of his very British love for football, whilst Tetyana’s desperation to pass this test, but not fail her stepdaughter, Muna, is the most touching story.
Photo by John Haynes
It was interesting to see the After Words discussion so well attended, and to find that you weren’t the only person to be rather confused; along with the actual test questions, you need to be pretty well up on current affairs, and history. Yet for many people and it would appear, most newspapers (judging by the headlines only this morning), all immigrants are seen as a threat, scroungers at least. We tend to forget that even at its worst, this country, above all, is often seen as the promised land. But the play, rightly described as provocative and witty, gives you plenty to reflect upon, maybe ‘There but for the grace of God…’ – and whether it’s OK to use phrases like that these days.
last updated: 18/02/2008 at 10:56