Carmen Nasr
Flux Theatre in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Finborough Theatre

Nicholas Banks as Jamie and Miztli Rose Neville as Clara Credit: Tim Bell

Once, people looked up from the desert at the night sky and its stars and dreamed of the future but now they gaze out on the twinkling lights of skyscraper hotels and luxury apartments and dream of them being theirs. This is the vista that is offered by modern Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates developing as an international business and transport hub, a centre for tourism and fashionable shopping.

In real life, Dubailand is the name of an actual theme park, retail and entertainment development that is in the latter stages of construction but here you can take it to mean that dream of a fabulous future. In Carmen Nasr’s play, it is a dream that is shared by a British PR man, who is helping promote it, and a migrant worker helping to build it.

For some, that dream, though it may not be the same one, already seems reality: Dubai is a place with no opposition party to challenge the government of an absolute monarchy, there are no elections, no unions to demand workers’ rights and no income tax. It is where high-rise, luxury real estate is being built by 250,000 workers on rock-bottom wages, recruited from India, the Philippines and other south Asian countries.

Amar is one of those workers who shared his dream with his seven-year-old daughter and came here. Now he lives the reality of long labour and primitive workers’ camp.

Jamie is a young Englishman who used to go on demos; now he’s got over that and lives the hedonistic good life. We meet him in an ideas session with his PR colleagues when he comes up with the idea of live webcams to show potential clients their homes being built, the views they will get.

Clara is a journalist, ostensibly arriving to do a piece on shopping in Dubai, she’s keen to cover the situation of the migrant workers. She knew James in the days when he had more of a conscience.

All three main characters go through a learning curve and Adi Chugh as Amar, Nicholas Banks as Jamie and Miztli Rose Neville as Clara make them very real people but this is less a play about personalities than a deft dramatisation of the dire situation of the workers—and not just the construction teams. Jamie too falls foul of the system and gets trapped. His video idea is the tragic link between stories; this is a moving presentation of what lies behind the glamour and luxury.

If you’re feeling self-righteous and that this isn’t your problem, Amanda (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) in Jamie’s office gives a realistic picture of alternatives and a picture of life in Seven Sisters. In contrast with Amar, her colleague Deena (Reena Lalbihari) is a professional Indian living the “good” life. Leon Williams plays their boss and Varun Sharma and Aanya Chadha play other roles.

This 90-minute show is made doubly effective by the simplicity and directness of Georgie Staight’s pared-down production. Designer Bex Kemp adds only some clear perspex boxes to the slanting colour-change LED strips of the set it shares in repertoire. They hint at the future as they form both the furniture and symbolic building blocks for the construction workers. With Robbie Butler’s lighting and Jack Burton’s sound design needs no other embellishment.

Dubailand plays only on Sunday and Monday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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