London, like many of the world’s great cities, is home to a large immigrant population – I number myself among them. Immigrants contribute and bring so much with them. Give Me The Sun sees director Majid Mehdizadeh leading a creative team from the Middle East/North Africa to ponder a part of the immigrant experience, looking at what we leave behind and how we move forward.
Walking into the Blue Elephant Theatre is lovely, the house seems warm and welcoming with cushions arranged across the benches. However, the evening did not get off to the best start with the air conditioning being so loud that I was not just struggling to hear anything, I simply could not hear. Neither actor appeared to realise the issue and failed to compensate for this. Thankfully one of the BET team soon turned the AC off for an immediate improvement. Although a little bit more volume from both actors throughout would still have been appreciated.
Give Me the Sun tells the story of 18-year-old Bashir (Joseph Samimi) and his father Baba (Aso Sherabayani). Baba moved his family from Egypt to the UK when Bashir was just four. We don’t learn the details of why they left but it is clear that Baba has made a deliberate choice to not look back. He does not speak Arabic, nor listen to Egyptian music – rather he is fully focused on life in the UK. In Egypt a doctor, in London an assistant manager at Tesco and living in a council house. If Baba is not happy, he is at least settled and doing his best for his son. Bashir though is not so happy or settled. He feels the loss of his roots, yearning to connect with the family left behind – but he knows no Arabic. Bashir feels neither British nor Egyptian – he just feels lost. The father looks only forward, the son looks only back. Neither can understand the other’s perspective.
Samimi and Sherabayani utterly convince as father and son, making it impossible not to be engrossed in this family drama. Their relationship is so comfortable and natural to witness that I was taken by surprise when the play ended; surely an hour could not have passed? This is also credit to Mamet Leigh’s script. However, the play could have backed itself more. That interaction and relationship between father and son is more than enough to carry it, so it felt superfluous when an early appearance of medical pills returns later for a life-threatening event.
Jida Akil’s set is smart and insightful as it balances simplicity with subtle detail. We are presented with an obvious living room, yet through the window looms the spectre of Egypt – paper cut-outs of buildings keeping the family’s Egyptian roots visible. The sitting room is anchored to the walls by ropes – held down by sand. One rope is broken off, another is fraying, echoing the distance and disconnect felt by Bashir. It’s a great example of a set contributing to and mirroring the story being told on it.
While we can infer that Baba had to flee Egypt, we learn from the programme that author Mamet Leigh was forced to leave Iran. My immigration story is not complicated (and I can go back anytime I want) – but I know the feeling of leaving friends and family and homeland. Give Me The Sun gracefully taps into a universal aspect of the immigrant experience with extra resonance for those who cannot go back and those who feel in between.
Written by: Mamet Leigh
Directed by: Majid Mehdizadeh
Design by: Jida Akil
Give Me The Sun plays at Blue Elephant Theatre until 30 July 2022. Further information and bookings can be found here.