It’s the Conservative Party Conference and the Tories are heading up to Bradford. The town – and the country – is fraught with tension over immigration policy. A women’s peace camp is protesting against military intervention in the Middle East. Multitudes – now playing at Tricycle Theatre – dares to cut deep into what it means to be British, airing the pent-up frustrations and opinions of the diplomats, the intolerant and the lost.
Spiralling around the (dis)unity of one family in Bradford, the conference serves as a back drop to individual acts of protest. This series of identity-affirming moments contemplates the treatment of Muslims in Britain: by strangers on the bus, in the media, at the mosque, and even within families.
Multitudes is precisely, even prophetically topical, given the writing process has taken place over the last few years. As ‘Jihadi brides’ fill our news channels and the BBC releases a poll of British Muslims, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the play is on point with current affairs. More than that, though, its drama is tense, gripping and emotive. John Holingworth’s script is cleverly paced with a montage of duologue scenes introducing us to the characters, before it rockets into explosive conflict.
Kash (Navin Chowdhry), a liberal British Muslim, and a local councillor for Bradford is planning his speech for the conference and trying to rebuild trust in a complicated environment. The career politicians who arrive from London deride him with underhand, polite put-downs. Their haughty attitude to Bradford in general becomes blatant in their treatment of the fussy, quintessentially white middle-class Lyn (Jacqueline King). King is brilliantly temperamental in the role.
Lyn is the mother of Kash’s girlfriend, Natalie (Clare Calbraith), who – under no obligation – has converted to Islam. An utter shock to her bigoted mother, the conversion serves as a catalyst for Lyn’s drunken spiel against Kash and his daughter, Qadira (Salma Hoque). It reaches an uncomfortable, shocking climax as she yells at them to “go home”.
Qadira herself makes urgent radical statements, feeling shunned from British society. She voices the discontent of young people attracted to return to the ‘motherland’. But her character is left underdeveloped and her political articulations and inflammatory acts are given little exposition.
The coterminous occurrence of the peace camp, nationwide mosque attacks and party conference was unduly coincidental. Using a single family unit to embody the conflicting positions of a complex subject could have fuelled the play’s intensity; instead it seemed a little reductive and somewhat far-fetched. Altogether, however, Indhu Rubasingham’s Multitudes effectively breaks in an important discussion of identity and faith on the British stage.
Multitudes is playing at Tricycle Theatre until 21 March. For more information and tickets, see the Tricycle Theatre website.