Pros: An exciting and unexpected take on the race debate.
Cons: A good story, let down by the acting.
The Incident, written by Swedish playwright Joakim Daun is a new and exciting piece of theatre that brings a fresh perspective to the international conversation about race, prejudice and otherness. It is a deeply worthy piece that brings some very interesting and unexpected nuances to a familiar debate. It’s a story of cross continental love between a Swedish teacher and a bright young PhD student from Zimbabwe. A love that draws the young woman, Monica, away from her home, half way across the world to small town Sweden, to work as a secondary school teacher. Here she experiences unexpected and brutal prejudice from the local population.
Daun’s play explores the kind of racism that simmers below the surface of self-confessed liberals. Sweden, and Scandinavia more generally, enjoy very liberal, politically sound international reputations and it is that moral high ground that The Incident calls into question. It exposes the kind of liberals who are very progressive until they find an immigrant living on their own doorstep.
Through the course of the play Monica finds not only the community turning against her, but even the man who claims to love her. The message of the show is both uncomfortable and deeply important to a western audience: “How progressive are you when confronted with difficult choices?”; when asked to choose between ‘theirs’ and ‘yours’. This is summed up very eloquently by Monica, who at the end of the show presents a paper on ‘Otherness’ and the loss of racial identity of people trying to integrate into a community that is not their own. The paper is followed by a short video clip of a man talking about a colourblind Sweden that doesn’t recognise different races. This is, of course, deeply ironic in the wake of events which see Monica all but run out of town by a campaign of local racism.
Alongside the show itself, the company run workshops to explore the constructs of race, community and power in a creative setting, to which I absolutely say bravo.
With such a worthy and interesting premise it’s a shame the show as a whole wasn’t better. The quality of acting was disappointing and in some places distracting. While the performances were not necessarily technically bad the delivery lacked sincerity and in places felt awkward and a bit wooden, as did sections of the dialogue. There were also times when the actors didn’t quite seem on top of their lines. Although this can all, perhaps, be put down to both one actor and a writer speaking in a language that is not their mother tongue.
I did though largely enjoy the set and use of space, which was done thoughtfully and intelligently using minimal props and a simple costume change to indicate different events, non-chronologically, in the show’s overall time frame. The transitions back and forth in time were handled stylishly with subtle use of costume. I particularly liked the use of tiles in the set, largely black and white with bursts of vivid African pattern, a good visual metaphor for the show’s themes. It was, however, hard to get away from the rather clinical lecture theatre-like setting.
All in all, this is a show with tremendous promise and a story that really needs telling, but it just isn’t quite there. I hope that with time and a bit more work the company can come to do the story justice. This is a company taking art right back to its fundamental roots, as a weapon against division and a vehicle to change the world for the better.
Writer/producer: Joakim Daun
Dramaturg: Zoë Guzy-Sprague
Director: Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier
Box office: 020 3039 3333
Booking Link: https://poplarunion.com/event/the-incident/?fbclid=IwAR1cMJmj_CAvN07mFSluIcvmO7N1WnuLSkLBqr-H-ckTw5ASw5eQbIFKZnQ
Booking Until: The show has now finished its run at this venue