Seven years on from the 7/7 bombings, Damien Tracey has written Warde Street, a play which considers the lasting effects of the tragedy on politics, religion and relationships. Unfortunately, finally tackling some controversial opinions is undermined by its ugly incorporation into the writing.
In Act One of Warde Street, politician David (Damien Tracey) and his mistress Samiya (Avita Jay) discuss whether her brother, Ashfaq (Omar Ibrahim) is guilty of killing Eddie (Shane Noone), his close friend who killed Ashfaq’s wife. Ashfaq claims Eddie killed himself because Eddie couldn’t get over his wife’s death during the 7/7 bombings, and that Eddie attacked them because he associated his wife’s death with the religion which the bombers and Ashfaq’s family share. Act Two reveals what really happened that night. The problem with this structure is that the two acts come across as separate entities with separate commentaries on the events of 7/7, their only link being Ashfaq’s appearance in both stories.
Tracey not only writes and produces, but takes the place of Corin Stuart in the role of David (unfortunately he wasn’t able to perform due to personal circumstances). Although admirably stepping up to the plate at the last minute, Tracey’s performance only contributes an awkward dimension to the acting which is already present in the writing. Avita Jay has to force the chemistry between this couple, whose dialogue is so argumentative it leaves you wondering why they’re together in the first place. Besides this, the reduction of life-changing events to political pros and cons occasionally provides a cutting statement on just how often the politician puts his constituents before himself – even if this statement repeats itself a lot in circular arguments without a winner.
Act Two is a more personal exploration of the aftermath of 7/7 in contrast, and easier for an audience to emotionally engage in. Noone and Ibrahim give real powerhouse performances, pushing themselves to the limit to bring the unreality of their situation to reality. Their exchanges are tumultuous, everything you’d expect in a desperate situation like theirs, but the energy level they’re forced to remain at leaves them nowhere to go, so again the same circular arguments eventually fall stale.
Tracey demands a lot of his actors because he creates two story arcs which climax individually with extreme intensity. This causes the drama content to border on soap opera, and furthermore, the amount of exposition in the dialogue and lack of subtlety makes it inevitable that the actors occasionally lack any subtlety in their performances, often being reduced to shouting matches that lose their punch. It’s a shame, because the actors do as they’re asked and provide us with viscerally emotional performances.
Rhys McDowall does deserve a mention for his expressive set; the monochrome is a reflection of the black and white way in which these characters think, and by framing the set in what appears to be the remains of a tube map after an explosion, McDowall reminds the audience of the event at the centre of this piece.
Finally, I have no problem with open endings. Did Ashfaq shoot Eddie? Or did Eddie shoot himself? But this ending does highlight a glaring error in the details; three shots were fired, one at Yasmeenah, and one at Eddie, hence Ashfaq is suspected of shooting Eddie as it would explain the third shot as him having missed on the first attempt. And director Jenny Eastop does the play no favours by ignoring the mystery of the third shot, forgetting the difference between an open ending and a confusing one.
Warde Street plays at the Park Theatre until 26 October. For tickets and more information please see the Park Theatre website.