Stephen Laughton, whose critically acclaimed play Run sold out at the Vaults Festival in February, is presenting his new drama Screens at Theatre 503. Laughton is trying to discuss a lot of issues in 65 minutes of performance time – identity problems of second generation immigrants, teenage violence in deprived areas of London, homophobia, BREXIT, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, second generation guilt, sibling rivalry, and the addiction to smart phones.
Today is Emine’s birthday but she does not feel like celebrating. She is deeply disturbed and the beheaded cat that she found on her way home is not the only reason. Her children do not understand why Emine (Fisun Burgess) is so upset. Ayşe (Nadia Hynes), a narcissistic, self-centred teenager with no regard for anybody else, could not care less about a dead cat, except that she quickly posts a photo of the mutilated feline on Instagram. Her brother Al (Declan Perring) is trying to find someone on Grindr who does not start off their communication by sending photos of his private parts. Before they can sit down for the birthday dinner that Al prepared, Ayşe discovers an e-mail in her mother’s account that changes her whole world forever.
The play focuses on a Turkish-Cypriot family in Harlow, a deprived area of London, where clinging onto a sense of self and identity seems the only way to cope. Ayşe thrives on her Turkish-Cypriot background, it makes her feel special. Al is aware of his family history but he defines himself as British. When he meets up with Ben (Paul Bloomfield), a Jewish gay man who is very political, he shies away from talking about the Cyprus conflict but finally admits that he hates Greeks because of the atrocities they committed against the Turkish Cypriots. As Ben argues, being the son of a victim cannot leave Al untouched. But Al is going to move on to a new life far away from Harlow and his past.
Al’s sister Ayşe is trapped in her own self-image. She considers herself a hip Turkish-Cypriot girl, really popular on social media, fondly tolerating semi-cool English rapper boyfriend Charlie (George Jovanovic). Being cool and exotic is very important to Ayşe. When she is confused with a Syrian refugee by a xenophobic Brexiteer and told to go back to her own country, Ayşe feels deeply offended. Her frail ego has to take another, far worse blow when she finds out that her background is not Turkish-Cypriot after all. Her carefully built self-image is crumbling and Ayşe cannot cope. She resorts to violence to vent her frustration and disappointment.
Emine is forced to relive her past when the dead cat triggers memories of the atrocities that she had to experience, exacerbated by an e-mail informing her that she was adopted. This is an interesting storyline that offers enough material for an entire play. Then there is Ayşe who already behaves like a juvenile delinquent before her identity is in doubt. She shows no respect for her mother although she sees herself as a Turkish Cypriot and slanders random people in the social media. This is less a problem of cultural identity and more of growing up in a slum area without the benefits of learning about ethics and consideration for others. Her appalling actions towards the end of the performance cannot actually be blamed on her migrant background but on severe mental issues. Having said that, in this case both factors might contribute to the terrible outcome. Yet the running time is too short to find out more about Ayşe and the way she ticks. Ben, the outsider in this drama, gives a rather polemic speech that covers too many subjects but contains some valuable truths.
Cressida Brown’s production is skilfully directed and features an outstanding cast, most of all Fisun Burgess as Emine. However, the play is too short for proper character development and the writer attempts to discuss too many issues.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
SCREENS is playing at Theatre 503 until 3 September 2016