The War Next Door

Tamsin Oglesby
Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
(2007)

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The themes underlying this topical play sound fascinating.

Take a right-on couple, a trendy if rather boring barrister with a black wife who is really into Eco matters, and give them a moral dilemma to resolve when they discover that the Middle-Eastern bloke next door is beating up his missus.

Unfortunately, Tamsin Oglesby's characters seem to live in some parallel universe where, rather than behaving consistently and rationally, they do whatever is necessary to fit in with her convoluted plotting.

This means that time and again, one person or another will fail to do the blindingly obvious. The consequence is that by the end, pretty much everyone has been assaulted and half the people that we have been watching have died. In real life, the worst that is likely to have happened would be that the social services and possibly the police would have been called in.

Max, played by David Michaels, is a barrister who is so proud of growing grass (the hallucinogenic type) that he boasts about it to his next-door neighbour, who has come in to complain about the drop-dead gorgeous Sophie's back garden exhibitionism.

After some initial misunderstandings, the two men get on like a house on fire (perhaps an unfortunate metaphor) even though they have nothing in common. Indeed, one soon begins to wonder where Jonathan Coyne's Ali has got the money to live next to the beautiful people.

Lorraine Burroughs as Sophie is already concerned about the noises coming from next door and believes that Ali is beating his wife Hana (Badria Timimi). This is bad news as Hana either is or isn't pregnant depending upon who you listen to.

In any event, she soon gives birth to a baby girl played by a silver boombox. The little girl becomes a half sister to Ali's totally articulate son, who symbolically spends his life shooting the local wildlife with an air pistol.

As the rich couple's suspicions grow, we get the one moment of real dramatic tension in the play as they debate what action to take. Their prevarications mean that Hana gets a severe beating from father and son and the baby is probably killed.

The far from obvious solution is for Max and Sophie to have an argument that eventually leads to an assault. If nothing else, this demonstrates that in the strange world that we have entered, what Max refers to as DV and the rest of us know as domestic violence has the characteristics of a transmittable disease.

Sophie's final whingeing monologue, delivered from a vertical bed, shows the lady trying to come to terms both with the problems in her relationship with Max and the global-warming next door, which she sees as a bit of light pollution and turns out to be arson.

With the material at her disposal, Tamsin Oglesby had every opportunity to deliver a first-rate script and a really moving drama. For most of the 75 minute play, she misses her own point in an effort to make other less important ones.

Playing until 31st March

Reviewer: Philip Fisher