Everyone wants to belong. Or do they? For a working class Muslim woman caught between a traditional family and a privileged white friend, the choice is an impossible one. To whom should she be faithful, the culture and class that raised her, or a friendship that, while hiding uncomfortable differences, gives her opportunities and freedom, however limiting, painful, and problematic.
Out of Sorts is a wonderfully bittersweet tale of clashing cultures, identities, and class. The play examines the dislocation that children of immigrants may feel when growing up in a country that, while their birthplace and home, can often feel far from homely. Such issues can follow a person all the way through school and university, where relationships don’t necessarily stop one feeling alone and, well, out of sorts.
Writer Danusia Samal is the recipient of Theatre 503’s coveted International Playwriting Award and it’s easy to see why. Her script is rich and layered, and while centred around Zara (Nalân Burgess), gives its vividly drawn characters ample complexity, as well as quips. The writing superbly balances laugh-out-loud moments with subtle discussions of race, culture, and belonging that are keenly observed and powerfully delivered.
On a performance level there is not much to fault. Nalân Burgess is brilliant in the central role, perfectly capturing Zara’s strengths, weaknesses, and the inner turmoil that comes from navigating family and friends that just don’t get it. Emma Denly is also fantastic as Alice, her wealthy white best friend, painfully funny in her ignorance, but sometimes just painful. Particular note should be paid to Myriam Acharki however, whose performance as Zara’s mother Layla is carefully observed and yet incredibly affecting.
Tanuja Amarasuriya’s direction is smart, creative, and fluid. The way in which both Zara’s home life and personal life seemed to carry on at the same time is inspired, showing how both realities butt up against one another, leaving Zara caught between the two. I also really loved Rebecca Wood’s design, perfectly presenting a homely (if sparse) council flat and a rather more messy, millennial environment, complete with all manner of strange teas and vegan alternatives.
The play may be explicit in its exploration of race and class privileges, but interestingly leaves a lot left unsaid. I was particularly interested in how the theme of food came up time and time again, from diet choices to typical Arab and English fare, and how the idea of nourishment related to Zara’s struggle. She is hungry, but for what exactly? Family? Identity? Belonging? The lack of an answer to these questions makes the play all the more tantalising to consider, long after its conclusion.
Out of Sorts is a play without easy answers, and commendably leaves its audience guessing. Much like in life, there are few redemptive arcs or neat solutions. I found this refreshing, particularly in a time when so many people seem to want to reduce things to one or the other. As its title suggests, Out of Sorts defies simple categorisation in favour of something much more exciting.
Written by: Danusia Samal
Directed by: Tanuja Amarasuriya
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/out-of-sorts/#tickets
Booking Until: Saturday 2 November 2019