Henry Naylor has followed up last year’s powerful play The Collector with Echoes dealing with British cruelty in 19th century Afghanistan and mujahideen cruelty in modern-day Syria.
However the play has two very central flaws. One is the plausibility of the stories being told, and the other is the politics of the message being conveyed.
Set in two time periods, the play consists of a monologue by the Victorian woman Tilly (Felicity Holbrooke) who travels to Afghanistan to become the bride of a British officer, and a monologue by Samira (Filipa Braganca), a contemporary British Muslim who travels to Syria to become the bride of one of the fighters.
The acting is good, the stories roll along, and Naylor shows that the two women are not just victims. They can also make defiant moral choices and fight for them.
The plausibility problem is the sequence of events these women describe. Neither is believable. Tilly describes her journey from a sheltered Ipswich background to her role in directing an Afghan rebellion against the British in which she deliberately causes her husband’s death.
Samira describes her journey from a job in W H Smiths to becoming one of a number of brides of a Syrian killer whose "idea of foreplay" is to show her videos of him blowing the heads off unbelievers. The day after their marriage takes place, he gives her an ice cream to eat while he walks her past the heads of people stuck on stakes.
The men in these stories are crude cartoon stereotypes. This creates a second problem. The barely sketched British villains in Tilly’s account of 175 years ago are safely tucked away from any current prejudice.
Not so the unshaded picture of Muslims which makes the prejudices of The Daily Express look gentle and sophisticated. The good Muslim woman is simply naive, becoming a bride of a Syrian fighter because she claims Nigel Farage gets on her nerves.
The bad Muslim mujahideen blow up water purification plants, chop people’s heads off and spend their leisure time watching slaughter videos. What is happening in Syria is monstrous but it only needs a glance at some of Patrick Cockburn’s articles in The Independent to see that the picture is a lot more complicated than that.
This comes at a time when Muslims in Britain are experiencing greater prejudice and the Prime Minister has made it clear he wants a vote in favour of bombing ISIS in Syria. Henry Naylor, for all his sympathies with the position of women in society, has written a play of implausible events and crude stereotypes that could add to the prejudice experienced by Muslims.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna