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Wajdi Mouawad, translated by Anne Khazam
Arcadia Productions
Riverside Studios

Shore production photo

Wajdi Mouawad is a Lebanese born playwright who grew up in France. His award winning Littoral originally was performed in English as Tideline in Toronto in 2005, and now its British premiere comes to us as Shore in a new translation by Anne Khazam.

The play starts with Wilfred telling us how he heard about his father's death. He describes how he was in the middle of having sex with a girl whose name he can't remember when he received the phone call. However, in this coming of age tale, this introduction to Wilfred, played with youthful innocence by Joseph Elliott, is poorly written. The crudeness of the first speech, possibly an attempt to get laughs early on, doesn't reflect the rest of the play and, as a result, it takes a while to readjust and tune in to what the play is really about.

As the play progresses, we are introduced to what in a younger character would be described as Wilfred's imaginary friend, the Knight Guiromelan (John Webber), who often follows Wilfred around to offer support and encouragement. Another figment of Wilfred's imagination is the film crew that sometimes follow him, capturing his more poignant moments.

After Act One, in which Wilfred deals with his father's death and decides to bury him in his unspecified home country, Act Two takes a dramatic turn. Wilfred carries his father (Rufus Graham) - who talks to him a lot - through a war stricken country. As he looks for a decent burial spot, he is joined by other wanderers who have their own stories to tell about the deaths of parents. In one particularly moving and well acted speech from Christopher Tajah as Sabe, we hear about a father's brutal murder and his son's inability to deal with the moment.

Although the two acts are very different, they fit together strangely well. Some of the symbolism, however, doesn't fit quite so well. That Guiromelan, the imaginary friend from childhood, first appears when Wilfred is at a peep-show is a jarring juxtaposition, but Guiromelan becomes more comprehensible as the play goes on. The film crew that follow Wilfred are too underused to add much other than some brief moments of humour.

In contrast, the laying to rest of the father is clear in its symbolism, but lasts far too long. Where other moments are too brief and vague, this moment is spelled out, then dragged out. At about forty-five minutes, Act One can afford some additions for the sake of clarity; at well over an hour, Act Two is too long and can afford to lose some of the repeated poignancy.

With the current conflicts in Libya and the rest of the world, this is a timely production for exploring themes of war, life and death. Josephine (Joyce Greenaway) carrying around phonebooks to preserve the names of the dead somehow reminds us of the thousands of lives lost in Japan and questions how long we should carry our dead around with us. Although the production is a little half-baked in places, it's definitely thought provoking.

Reviewer: Emma Berge