Naked Soldiers

Mark Norfolk
Warehouse Theatre, Croydon
(2010)

In the burned out room where his wife and child died, African refugee Jamal, who has been denied asylum, is hiding out. Here too comes Tony after being involved with a gang of football hooligans. A boy has been knifed and he is wanted for questioning. He goes to the hospital taking the victim flowers and grapes but is he guilty? Jamal also has a violent past. In meeting the two men have to rethink their judgement of each other but it is not until we are nearing the end of the play that their brief relationship develops into a revealing confrontation.

Adam Sop gives Tony street cred and handles some rap-style speeches skilfully. Dramatist Norfolk has created a character caught up in his circumstances whose skills and innate acuity suggest a potential that has never been developed. Ewart James Waters' Jamal allows only brief glimpses through the carapace he has built around himself. The character does not reveal enough to know his past but we get a sense of a damaged life.

The play presents us with people whose situation and behaviour undermine easy moral judgements but does not really attempt to produce a confrontation of ideas between them. Sally, the volunteer social worker (Elisabeth Dahl) involved with Jamal, is also faced with both legal and personal dilemmas, but treated largely as a peripheral character so there is little exploration of her dilemma.

The victim of gang violence makes a brief second appearance in a drug induced hallucinatory moment, gracefully performed by Ashley Garlic, but Norfolk makes no real use of this character.

Jeffery Kasson's production, in an atmospheric set by Neike Scharrer, beautifully bridges the naturalistic and more stylized elements of the piece. At times it seemed that nothing was really developing but that is something that a little more pace as the cast play it in and a little more light on the actors' faces could well put right. This holds the interest but I could wish that Norfolk had pursued his themes more deeply in this sad tale of people trapped by life but still having to soldier on.

Until 20th June 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton