Don’t Look Away at Pleasance Theatre
Don’t Look Away is certainly an apt title for the Nicholas Pitt-directed play, as it takes a moment to even realise it has begun. There is no grand lighting cue or significant action to signal the start, and instead the characters unassumingly enter the stage one after the other. Foreshadowing moments that unfold throughout the course of the play, a man in a suit carefully puts on his tie followed by another man wearing a backpack looking anxious. Last to enter is a slightly older woman, nervously folding and refolding blankets. She frantically mutters the same few lines to herself that, while initially seem to have no meaning, suddenly make sense as the piece nears its climax.
Written by Novae Theatre’s Grace Chapman, this production tells the story of Adnan (Robert Hannouch), an asylum seeker who finds himself at a community centre following a harrowing escape across the border, from his native Syria. He meets Cath (Julia Barrie), a cleaner who acts as Adnan’s surrogate mother-cum-lawyer as she fights tirelessly for him to remain in the UK. Her fractured relationship with both her son Jamie (Brian Fletcher) and her recently deceased ex-husband form seemingly much of the narrative. This is perhaps to the play’s detriment, as it increasingly becomes more family drama than thought-provoking exploration into the refugee crisis.
Hannouch is arguably the highlight, with his portrayal switching easily between amusing and solemn throughout. Fletcher too has some memorable moments, though they are few and far between. He really shines, however, in some of his interactions with Hannouch, with the fraught relationship between Jamie and Adnan providing perfect ground to show more emotional range than his character does at any other points. Rather inconveniently, Barrie is the weakest of the three, turning out an unconvincing performance more shaky than strong. As a mother trying to repair the strained relationship with her son together with the burgeoning mother/son bond between Cath and Adnan, Barrie has some believable moments. These are rarely fully realised, however, and her portrayal ultimately lacks the depth and nuance desperately needed for the role.
The stage is simple, consisting of one unchanging set that functions as both a community centre and home. For a play dealing with such significant issues, a set that doesn’t distract is a smart choice. Certain elements feel awkwardly placed, however, with a long transparent curtain that hangs across the back of the stage proving to be more confusing than creative.
While Chapman certainly has noble intentions, they get lost amidst an unimaginative script, unsteady performances and an ending causing the audience to wonder what message we are supposed to leave with. For a production with such poignant and timely subject matter, Don’t Look Away mostly misses the mark and ultimately lacks the execution needed to pull off an altogether more meaningful experience for the viewer.
Photo: Ryan Cowan
Don’t Look Away is at Pleasance Theatre from 7th until 18th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.