Elder Latimer Is in Love

Sebastian Michael
Arcola Theatre
(2009)

Tonight I sat next to a suicide bomber. I can't say I wasn't warned: the opening 'switch of your mobile phone' announcement told us the production might feature a loud explosion that could kill and maim and restricted the use of cameras and recording devices to the security services and the police. But this is a play not about violence but about love and understanding.

It presents us with five extremely likeable personalities: Jaden Latimer (Rob Heaps) is a Mormon, doing his missionary stint in the UK; Qasif (Richard David-Caine) a young Muslim, his sister Dina (Zina Badran), aunt Ella (Nila Aalia) and her partner Tom (Steve Nicolson). Qasif is very relaxed about being Muslim: he has no problem with being gay and toking up using a hookah as a bong, but Dina takes Islam very seriously, though their aunt is without religion and British Tom another who questions holy books and god.

I feel I know a bit about Mormons. I once had a fling with a refugee from Salt Lake City and I get so many of those male missionary pairs come knocking on my door that an argument with me must have been made part of their training. The always good-mannered one is usually all good looking charm, the other bespectacled and plain. Jaden is definitely the good looking one and Qasif falls for him while Jaden falls for Dina; but this is no Romeo and Juliet story. While Jaden finds his indoctrination challenged Dina is firm in her beliefs, which she presents while making a video recording. This is an instance when the use of video is entirely justified and effective for her image projected on a wall behind her as she speaks makes it a direct and personal communication to every member of the audience instead of being concentrated on those immediately before her.. It also helps to give a rather quiet and restrained performance more power at these moments.

The whole cast give delightful and sensitive performances in this beautifully written play. Adam Berzsenyi Bellaagh's direction encourages them to bring out all the humour of the very natural sounding text. He uses Mortz Behren's set of small and large white boxes to move his actors in a way that sometimes parallels the development of their relationships - they also provide a convenient way of making all the necessary hand-props readily accessible, for the whole cast stay on stage through almost all the action.

I was held and touched throughout. When things get very serious Heaps is a tremulously emotional Jaden and Aalia as Ella sustains a powerfully accusing speech that

you
have allowed
hate
into your heart
not just anger, righteousness and
rage
your heart has filled with
hate

What is sad is that this plea for tolerance and respect for others is likely to be seen mainly by those liberal minded libertarians who already agree with it. Muslim fundamentalists aren't often theatre goers and should they happen to be they are unlikely to be influenced by a work which will presents them with a gay Muslim man and woman of Muslim background who is living with a man outside marriage. It presents no argument against their prejudice. Perhaps it could help to make some Christian fundamentalists more liberal. Is it only preaching to the converted? No, for this is not a play that preaches. It works because it seems so natural and honest and is so enjoyable to watch.

At the Arcola until 3rd October 2009

Howard Loxton