Better late than never. I finally managed to attend and was truly blown away by Hassan Abdulrazzak’s latest play ‘Love, Bombs and Apples’ that was showing at the Arcola Theatre last week. Although the London run has finished, I have been informed that the production will soon be touring York, Bradford, Liverpool, Cumbria and Oldham from 29 June until 22 July, 2016.
Very punchy and dark in its fantastic humour, Abdulrazzak’s script raises many of the sore global political issues facing our time. Being a distinguished award-winning playwright, this time he effortlessly engages the audience with the very different stories of four male characters living in various parts of the world, but whom are all connected by an interesting philosophic thread.
All performed by the same versatile thespian, Asif Khan, he effortlessly takes on the role of a Palestinian actor with a strong Arabic accent, to becoming the introverted Pakistani amateur author, to emulating a British Bradford born gangster-type adolescent; and, finally, turning into a Jewish New Yorker. There is truly no mistaking which individual he is in the four-parts, so adept were the character transformations.
One of the most memorable scenes is in ‘Love in the Time of Barriers’, when the actor from Ramallah decides to have a sexual experience with an English girl against the Separation Wall even under the spotlight of the Israeli guards. Inspired by a true story told to Abdulrazzak, it highlights the resilience of the Palestinians in the face of oppression and their right to love even whilst being held hostage. He says to her: “This is a moment where we can make a stand. Defy them. Show them that no matter what walls they build, what towers they erect, they can’t stop us form living.”
Another important scene is in ‘The Apple’ segment, when the young yob from Bradford talks about the seduction of being a jihadi and joining ISIS. It reveals how simple, uninformed and misguided his logic in wanting to join the violent group. He says: “What’s in Bradford? Why stay? Zero hour contracts. No, thanks. Loading shelves in the Ikea. No way, bro. Why waste my life here when I could be spreading Islam with an iPhone and a tank? I want the hot desert air in my face. I want to wave the black flag from the top of the tank, I want my choice of jihadi brides, you know what I am saying? I want the cool black uniform. I love that uniform.”
In a third tale titled ‘The Landing Strip’, we also meet the Jewish American named Issac. He starts out as nervous and anxious to be asking his girlfriend to fulfill just one of his sexual fantasies to spice up their intimate life. However, her unexpected response forces him to question and challenge his father’s Zionist politics and being a member of the AIPAC aka America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.
Last but by no means least – and, in fact, my favourite monologue as it made me laugh so much! – was the odd story of the shy British-Pakistani aspiring novelist Sajid. His undesired fate is to be is taken into police custody and be kept in a UK prison for terrorism-related charges because of having developed a frightening book plot. It was so totally harmless in his eyes but which didn’t seem so innocent to them. His tragic predicament, mixed with his self-deprecating personality, leads to very funny moments indeed.
One common theme that I could pick out was perhaps how our private lives are inextricably linked to the big public concerns of our age and the festering issues in our collective consciousness. I felt a hint towards this urgent need for people to take their responsibility as world citizens more seriously and to utilise their wills more strategically; so that we do not fall into the trap of relying on the shallow or false arguments fed to us via the mainstream media or any propaganda literature when it comes to politics.
More specifically, the four are all plausible examples of how an individual can get unwittingly embroiled in the unavoidable issues of ISIS, anti-terror laws in the UK or the unjust Israeli occupation of Palestine. Whether we are in the East or the West, there is a suggestion that we must all be fully awake to current affairs and to educate ourselves in the history in order to not repeat similar mistakes. For example, the big reference to the Holocaust is measured against the injustices currently being committed by the Israeli state.
I do highly recommend this play and especially if it continues to be performed by its wonderful star Asif Khan and directed by Rosamunde Hutt. I do also hope that it goes on an international tour soon as it is so timely and has so much to offer its audience: making them chuckle but also seriously think and possibly even cry. It is a very strong theatrical piece and definitely one worth seeing if you get the chance.
‘Love, Bombs and Apples’ was first commissioned and produced by AIK productions. Its world premiere was at the Arcola Theatre, London as part of the Shubbak Festival in July 2015. This current UK national tour is co-produced by AIK Productions and Turtle Key Arts.
Note: This article was first published circa July 2016