Home » Reviews » Off West End » The President and the Pakistani, Waterloo East Theatre

The President and the Pakistani, Waterloo East Theatre

Rashid Razaq
Directed Tom Attenborough
★★★

Pros: The characterisations of Barack Obama and Sal Maqbool are strong and compelling. Occasional lip-syncing dance breaks augment the storyline, setting and time period of the piece innovatively and provide a welcome flash of levity and a dash of brilliance.

Cons: While an interesting and relevant story to tell, it is perhaps not as profound or insightful as one might hope.

Our Verdict: A great idea; who doesn’t want an insider’s look into the American President’s early years? Whilst well-delivered in all respects, the story is no more revealing than what anyone can read in The Audacity of Hope.

Credit: Nigel Howard

Obama as he was in the beginning: what this means or what this is, is no secret. The American President has given the public – admirers and enemies alike – pretty open access to who he was before he became ‘the first African-American President of the United States of America’, particularly through his memoirs. No real bombs are dropped in this dramatisation of the President’s early life. The premise: Barack (a convincing impersonation by Syrus Lowe) and his flatmate from Pakistan, Sal Maqbool (Junaid Faiz), are moving/being evicted from their flat in Harlem to start afresh in Manhattan. However, when Obama, mid-move, is offered a job in Chicago as a community outreach worker, the underbelly of the society which he is desperate to escape, the drugs, the crime and the depravity, is revealed. And this revelation comes through his drug addicted flatmate and friend, an illegal immigrant from Pakistan, who has been stealing Barack’s rent money for drug money, oppressed by a society of extremes in his pursuit of the American Dream.

In this account, we are given Barack Obama as we already know him: an idealistic (at that time young) man looking to do good, to make a permanent change in a society laden with inequality, crime and depravity. We are delivered all the same speeches with the same passion and expert oration that we were to hear twenty or so years later during the 2008 election campaign about the source of all that is wrong with the world and the need for change. However, while Obama is painted as a good and decent man with a deep desire to ‘be the change [he] wish[es] to see in the world’, he is at once depicted as a failure, perhaps even a sell-out – again accusations we have heard before – in his inability to address the problems on his own doorstep in his anxiousness to solve the problems of the greater society.

The show is well written, acted and directed with excellent production values. The lighting was particularly good with cardboard boxes acting as lampshades on the ‘ceiling’ creating wonderful ambient light. It was also effective for the cool, club lighting in the musical outbursts of Grand Master Flash’s The Message, used to remind us how dire times were, in case we didn’t get it from the show itself. However, what holds this show back from a fourth star is an extra layer of insight. We are presented with dramatised fact and there is only so much creative license one may take, particularly in representing a life story of the American President. However, when going to a show that is so relevant to current world events, I wanted to come away with more than, ‘the President is a moral guy and a good person, but he is a human being too’. While the delivery of this messaging was clever and poignant, I found it too simple a statement to sum up such a complex leader and fascinating historical figure.

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The President and The Pakistani runs at the Waterloo East Theatre until 4th November 2012.
Box Office: 020 7928 0060 or book online at http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

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