Moormaid at Arcola Theatre
Writer and assistant director Marian Bott’s new play, Moormaid, is an intense journey into the lives of Melissa (Sarah Alles-Shahkarami), Mehdi (Moe Bar-El) and Khan (Ali Azhar) in modern-day Berlin.
Unhappily married art teacher Melissa is attempting suicide with her favourite scarf. She is exhausted, tired of teaching and miserable that her paintings are not being appreciated enough. A phone call from her husband Simon and former love interest – ex-student Mehdi – soon interrupt her asphyxiation endeavour. We never see Simon, but Mehdi is the typical charmer with his schoolboy traits and flirtatious manner – accentuated by Bar-El’s natural good looks. It is nice to see that the character cares about Melissa, but it is not long before we realise that he, too, is struggling with his own demons.
Mehdi’s friend Khan appears intermittently throughout, causing him to become increasingly agitated. It becomes evident shortly that his companion is not really there – only his spirit, which is stuck in the in-between. We discover that both Mehdi and Khan were terrorist fighters overseas, the latter abandoned by the former in the desert, leading to his death. Mehdi is stricken with guilt over this, resulting in his friend’s inability to pass into the afterlife. It is an intriguing concept, but more could have been disclosed to explain the reason behind their fighting.
Melissa philosophises on truths and being honest to oneself. The magnetic attraction between herself and Mehdi is alluring; the lovemaking scene is particularly good, in which they reflect the androgynous – art comprised of male and female characteristics. She states: “to choose is to commit, and to commit is to be free.” We see her struggle with her artistic passions and desires regarding Mehdi, but her story implausibly comes to an end without further development.
Despite the show’s attempts to deal with challenging subjects, it handles too many things simultaneously. The clichéd banter between Khan and Mehdi is typical, but the sudden revelation of their terrorism leaves more questions than answers. The offensive and sexist language does get a little tiresome – though Bott’s intentions are clear – but the piece remains slightly derivative, regardless of its strong performances
Photo: Anika Wagner
Moormaid is at Arcola Theatre from 28th April until 19th May 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.