Pros: Brilliant staging and lighting complemented imaginative use of the small stage which housed some fine performances, especially from Nadia Hynes.
Cons: The play occasionally lost its way as it tried too hard to explain the background to the topics at hand, and may have benefited from slimming down its subject matter.
Screens is a play about finding your identity. Not only within the realms of ethnicity and sexuality, but also online. It’s an interesting concept, but at times is let down by trying to cover so much all at once. When your lead male is a gay British Turkish Cypriot Muslim with a penchant for Grindr, struggling to escape from the family home where he is the head of the household, it creates a lot of theatrical noise: it’s just too many identity crises compressed together. Thankfully, when the audience aren’t bombarded so much by multiple subject matter and the play is allowed to breath it offers more than enough to suggest that Stephen Laughton is a writer worth keeping an eye on. The script is serious enough to engage but also full of humour to release the moments of tension.
One of the main reasons Screens works so well is the interplay between the three family members: mother Emine, played by Fisun Burgess, and her two children, Declan Perring’s Al and Nadia Hynes’ Ayse. The three actors present a perfect portrayal of these characters as they struggle to work out their place in a modern Britain. This is no better seen than with Nadia Hynes, the younger sibling struggling to balance her social life with family life and beliefs. Hynes is the confused girl who wants to go out and party but at the same time wants to feel as if she belongs: that she has a family history.
The play was let down when it moved away from the core family dynamic and separated the individual characters from one another. Al’s Grindr meet with Ben – possibly the first time I’ve seen a producer also performing in his own play – began well as we watched the two men trying to gauge what the other really wanted, a typically awkward first meeting. But soon it descended into a debate on the Turkish-Greek conflict. This escalation from shy flirting to political debate was too drastic, too much too soon, and whilst it demonstrated the complexities of identity, it felt too forced into the narrative. Similarly, when Ayse was situated alone with friend Charlie, the attempts to make them sound fresh and young partially failed. Charlie sounded like a caricature: more Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry than a real teen. And again, it is a scene that escalated at a speed that would make Usain Bolt struggle to keep up.
But when it works, it isn’t just the script and acting that made Screens such great viewing. The staging, lighting and directing all stand out, and all seem to owe a nod to The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time. The bare stage is painted black except for a white edge on the floor and another halfway up the wall. The white wall section comes alive in the most superb of ways, as Al and Ayse use their never put down mobile phones and we see what is being typed or read on the white background. It’s simple but effective and at times gave me some of the best laughs of the evening. The white edge also screamed isolation as family members stood facing the wall rather than leave the stage. In such a small space as Theatre503 this is as intimate as it can get.
Expectations for any new play at Theatre 503 are always high, given the quality that this small intimate theatre has produced time after time. And, more often than not, Screens managed to match that expectation, offering a play that is not only thought provoking but funny and well acted.
Author: Stephen Laughton
Director: Cressida Brown
Producer: Paul Bloomfield
Box Office: 0207 978 7040
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/screens/