Lawrence After Arabia at Hampstead Theatre
The latest offering from British playwright Howard Brenton, Lawrence After Arabia explores the mystery surrounding TE Lawrence, his personal life and struggles with fame. Brenton is not one to shy away from discussing social or political issues, and his bold and amusing approach is what he built a career on. Directed by the award-winning John Dove, the play was commissioned to mark the anniversary of the Arab Revolt. The role of TE Lawrence is played by Jack Laskey (known for his part in ITV series Endeavour as DS Peter Jakes), and also stars Geraldine James, Khalid Laith and Jeff Rawle.
The play addresses the difficulty Lawrence encountered during his time away from the spotlight. Laskey’s performance is powerful and expressive; he portrays Lawrence as the truly tortured individual he may well have been. This is the angle the play has chosen to pursue – a gloomy retreat from fame, plagued with guilt and the weight of betrayal. It makes Brenton’s TE Lawrence a little unappealing as a character, but exciting to watch.
The intimate setting of Hampstead Theatre pairs perfectly with the production: the staging is clever and beautiful, sliding easily between the cosy living room of the Shaw’s home and the warm and airy Arabian desert. In the desert scenes the audience meets Prince Feisal (Khalid Laith), who is by far the most authentic and satisfying character. The relationship between Feisal and Lawrence is heartfelt and honest – Laskey’s enthusiastic and somewhat frantic approach to Lawrence is undeniably more endearing and successful during these scenes. Though the play feels the urge to treasure the tragedy of Lawrence’s experiences, this is briefly lightened with shining moments of comedy and silliness. There are stunning performances from all cast members and it is worth particularly mentioning the surprisingly sharp wit of Blanche Patch (Rosalind March, who won over the audience almost immediately).
Whether you are a history fan or know little about who Lawrence was and why he was in Arabia, Lawrence After Arabia is a thoroughly enjoyable experience – clever, witty and allows the audience to question what is being presented to them without being at all patronising.
Lawrence After Arabia is on at Hampstead Theatre from 9th May until 16th July 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch writer Howard Brenton speak about the play here: