Rose, by Hywel John

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Excellent new two-hander, beautifully produced, directed and acted.

Edinburgh ’11, Pleasance Courtyard/ Forth  – 3rd – 29th  Aug at 17:25

The set doubles as a hospital room and a small bedsit in this well directed, beautifully designed production of Rose by Hywell John. Art Malik is splendid as Arthur and Keira Malik a very powerful Rose. They are father and daughter playing father and daughter, which is far from an easy option. That they have chosen to work together is a remarkable accolade to their respect for one another as professional actors. They do a great job of playing a dysfunctional family of two, living in a tiny bedsit, as we enter into their lives in Flashback, from the hospital scene at the top of the show, where Arthur has had a stroke and Rose comes visiting.

The younger Arthur dotes on his clever young daughter, teaching her what he knows of educated English values, learned in his Middle Eastern country of origin, before coming to live in England. We gather this move happened just before Rose was born.  Her mother has passed away in mysterious circumstances but is ever present in their lives because Rose constantly asks questions about her which the pained, lonely  Arthur never answers properly. He enthusiastically diverts her attention into stories about Englishness, moral education, history, anything but his own history or that of her mother. He is both strict and very loving with his lovely daughter, with whom he shares a small bedsit. She goes to school. He stays home. He drinks secretly.

Keira Malik deftly moves in age from adult to small child to older, growing, questioning child and rebellious teenager, as we bounce through the years experiencing their extra-ordinary relationship. She plays open-hearted youth,  resentful teenager, loving daughter and regretful adult with equal ease. Art Malik has a ball with the idiosyncratic phrasing and partially Dickensian English of his troubled character. He is doting on his daughter  while also being a dragon of a teacher, using questioning to elicit the answers he has been drumming into her, to make her an educated English lady. She is out in the modern world while he lives in his fictional world of structured Arthurian Englishness, enclosed in their room.

( Arthur ) “ What is better- to flatten Fat Danny in unthought anger and indignation? Or to say to him, ‘Danny, you are wrong. I am not a Paki, but your intentions in calling me so are nothing but the most common insult, for you demean and lessen me by your label. So I hereby challenge you to a duel’ What is the correct answer?” ( Rose ) To challenge him to a duel? ( Arthur ) “ Correct, yes, a duel. Or a joust. For then you may still inflict righteous vengeance upon him, but you have risen divinely above his puerile, small-minded bigotry by giving him fair and reasonable warning of his impending punishment. You become an Englishman with such behaviour. Danny Simpson is no Englishman.”

Rose Smith is trying to understand who she is, to find her identity as a person with a coloured skin in Britain. She finds her mother’s hijab folded under her father’s pillow. During her teenage years she deliberately annoys him by declaring herself to be a muslim and wearing a hijab to school. He is quite volubly not a religious man, for which we discover the reason when we find out what has happened to Rose’s mother, whom he still loves deeply.  Since the play is a mystery story it is important not to reveal too much while describing the engaging performances and elucidating the themes. Suffice it to say the relationship between Arthur and Rose allows the themes of “ crabbed age and youth “ living together, love, frustration, racism, power, belonging and personal identity to be explored with refined complexity, weaving their threads through the pressure cooker of symbiosis in which caring father and loving daughter live. As Rose grows up, she is more and more frustrated, in many ways, by his lifestyle and his secretive attitude to his past. As she grows more independent she distresses him by becoming verbally abusive and physically distant. She departs.

Throughout the play we return to the hospital room in which this once tremendously articulate, intelligent man  has been reduced to verbal silence by a stroke. He can still moan, as he has done in his sleep for the whole of Rose’s life, she says and she now has all the power because he is helpless. The bitter-sweetness of their love for one another and the stresses of their circumstances are played with great subtlety by Art and Keira Malik. The set is well designed, the lighting beautiful and the music compliments the play perfectly. This is a triumph in all areas, disturbing and funny, making the ephemeral mother as solid as the characters on the stage.  ( Rose ) “ Do you know what that’s like, to not know your own mum’s face? I’ve been dreaming about her you know – but that’s impossible right?  But not the actual her obviously, more this sense of her. In the dream it’s like I’m on a treasure hunt or something..”

This whole play is a treasure hunt and Art Malik is a national treasure introducing us to his treasured daughter Keira,  a mightily talented, beautiful actress. The setting within which they play together is a well directed modern exploration of morality, society and family values in an intelligent relationship. It is the opposite of dumbed down and well worth seeing to find such intelligent work being given vibrant life by this excellent, faultlessly professional team.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Art Malik– Arthur,/Ahmed,  Keira Malik – Rose

Company Credits: Writer – Hywel John,  Director – Abbey Wright. Designer Richard Kent , Lighting Designer  – Emma Chapman, Sound Design and Composer – Alex Baranowski. Assistant Lighting Designer –  Joshua Carr, Production Manager – Ali Day, Stage Manager Connie Blackbourne,       Producer – Jessica Malik /Dirty Boots, Co-Producer – Alex Waldmann/ SEArED

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Thursday 11h August ’11


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