PSYCHEdelight’s Mohand & Peter tells the story of two London-based performers (Mohand Hasb Alrosol Abdalrahem and Peter Pearson), one of whom is a Sudanese refugee. Together they go on journeys to fantastical realms such as the moon, immersing the audience in their experience through expert use of physical theatre. Then, breaking away from the frivolity of imagined worlds, the journey shifts to what is for the refugee Mohand an impenetrable frontier: his home country, Sudan.
Mohand and Peter is a masterclass in world-building through body language and props; using simple wooden frames we are taken on their journey traversing Sudan, then to Mohand’s home, where we meet his family – all performed by Mohand himself. His ability to transform into numerous characters with the costume change of a mere headscarf is in equal parts hilarious and impressive. I particularly enjoyed the actors’ impressions of the village’s resident animals, my favourite being a hilariously campy Sudanese camel. Peter, like the audience, must quickly absorb a lot of information about a new country, and he responds with charming bewilderment. At various points the audience is encouraged to interact with Mohand and Peter, joining their chants of protest and singing along with their songs. The production conveys all the joy and inclusivity of a children’s drama class, and the two actors are dripping in charisma.
Within the comedic framework, the use of Mohand’s mother tongue in scenes at home draws attention to the theme of exclusion; when British audience members cannot understand Mohand’s words, we are made to sympathise with his position as an outsider in Britain. Peter himself gives a monologue about his struggles with the heat and the culture shock of Sudan, lamenting not being understood as he would be at home in Newcastle. His reference to the songs and dialects of his homeland ironically parallels Mohand’s whistle-stop tour of Sudanese culture. I found myself reflecting on how we Brits are so attached to our regional cultural identities, yet many struggle to sympathise with the plight of refugees.
One of Mohand and Peter’s successes is in challenging narratives of exile. Rather than presenting cultural displacement as rough and gritty, the production is a celebration of Sudan and its people, which then encourages cross-cultural understanding. A significant proportion of the audience were themselves Sudanese, and could be heard approvingly laughing and cheering along with the show. Indeed, in the post-show Q&A one woman expressed appreciation for the experience of feeling truly transported to Sudan.
The play gently touches on wider political themes, including reference to the #BlueForSudan movement. The topic of refugees is particularly significant at the time of this performance, due to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine; the media has been inundated with stories of those fleeing their homeland, leading many to question why countries such as Palestine, Syria, and Sudan are often not treated with the same compassion. We see Mohand and Peter taking part in a protest where they must flee police brutality; it is tense and poignant, serving as a reminder of the privileges we are afforded in Britain.
Mohand and Peter is a glorious celebration of Sudan, its people, and the magic of friendship across cultures. The love that goes into the production is clear to see, and the responses of Sudanese audience members in the Q&A proves the value of bringing the Sudanese day-to-day to the stage. These are clearly skilled actors, and I am keen to see what more PSYCHEdelight has to offer.
Director: Sophie Bertrand Besse
Set Designer: Ioana Curelea
Sound Designer: Remy Bertrand with contributions from Mohand’s friends and family in Sudan
Lighting Designer: Andrew Brock
Producer: Rob Landi
Mohand & Peter plays at Southwark Playhouse until 2 April. Further information and bookings via the below link.