Pros: Good intentions, and some strong performances.
Cons: Misses its opportunity to harness an interesting subject.
The courage of And Many Others’ Becoming Mohammed at the Pleasance Theatre is apparent from its title. Discussion of integration among Muslim communities, the place of Islam in the West and the experiences of Muslims today, is at once omnipresent and absent – a subject frequently mentioned, but seldom brought to life on stage. Becoming Mohammed not only takes an unblinking look at these complexities, but also does so from a fresh angle, following a Dutch atheist who converts to Islam, chronicling the reactions of his family, neighbours and the local Muslim community.
The difficulties that Thomas (Jack Hammett) encounters in his choice to become Muslim are, notably, mostly external. Having determined that his life lacked direction, and feeling abandoned by his family, Thomas has already adopted his new faith as the play opens, and he never abandons his confident zeal. However, Thomas’ faith, and the patience of his Muslim friends, are tested by the return of his sister Sarah (Philippa Carson), who has been abroad for several years. When she learns of Thomas’ new faith she becomes, by turns, incredulous, mocking and angry. Failing to recognise the brother she knew in this devout Muslim “revert”, Sarah attempts to draw Thomas into memories of their childhood, dismissing Islam as his latest phase. Moderating between them, and tasked with explaining her religion to both Sarah and the neophyte Thomas, is Thomas’ partner Aminah (performed by an outstanding Nadia Lamin) who contributes light-hearted wisdom to discussions where, otherwise, the siblings spar and squabble.
The subject is an interesting one, but Annemiek van Elst’s production struggles to harness its potential, failing to either say much that is original or to make the audience identify with any of the characters. For me, the dialogue was occasionally uninspired and some of the humour felt forced. I would have liked to see the characters evolve throughout the play, rather than set out their positions from the start and stick to them doggedly. That said, the team involved deserve considerable credit for taking on an important theme and addressing it in a play that is understated and thoughtful.
Written by: Claudia Marinaro
Directed by: Annemiek van Elst
Producer: Hannah Tookey
Set & Costume Designer: Bex Kemp
Box Office: 020 7609 1800
Booking Link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/becoming-mohammed
Booking Until: 21 May 2017