Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Alladeen

Keith Khan, Marianne Weems and Ali Zaidi
Barbican
(2003)

Alladeen has been written with the intention of demonstrating that the Global Village is contracting to such an extent that not only has East met West but they have become indistinguishable. Well nearly.

Marianne Weems is one of the team that conceived this ingenious and witty show and she also directs her cast and virtual support very sharply. Alladeen is one of the first shows that fully embraces the multi-media potentiality for 21st Century theatre.

The play starts with a computer-generated visual display (designed by Christopher Kondek) backed by a rock soundscape (from Dan Dobson). This shows a Virgin Megastore in New York bleeding into existence as an Indian twenty-something discusses matters of grave concern on her cellphone, especially the best karaoke bars in town.

The long middle scene is extremely funny. It is set in an invisible call centre in Bangalore, India. The staff training can be hilarious as they learn their American personas and buzz words. This will help them to fool the punters into believing that they are sitting in America. To become the perfect American today, you learn a few useless facts, some clichés and get your accents from Friends and Frazier, Ally McBeal and Buffy.

This act is fast-moving. The training is inter-cut with what is apparently a documentary about the the real lives of tele-workers in Bangalore. They work ten-hour nights and have to put up with sexual provocation and the loss of their social lives.

The training is cynical but it becomes clear as to why it is needed as the screen lifts and we enter the world of Call Span. The staff become quasi-Americans but like the invaders from alien worlds in sci-fi films of the fifties, they never quite get it right. They unintelligibly direct travellers across the States or help them to book flights to the wrong places.

This reaches its peak as one desperate operator speaks to an Indian man who works in Silicon Valley, her dream. She has used her New Yorker persona and cannot explain to him that she would happily marry him and work at the next desk if he could just get her to the USA.

This play of ultra global mobility closes in London with our lady in another almost identical Virgin Megastore and then her karaoke bar.

This is a very entertaining, short exploration of life today and the constant elusive search for meaning. It also loosely follows the story of Aladdin, his genie and princess but those expecting a traditional panto with Widow Twankey to the fore might be disappointed. A stimulating 70-minute trip through the modern world is the best that Motiroti and The Builders Association can offer.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher