Monsieur Ibrahim and The Flowers of the Qur'an is on at the Bush, and as it tells the story of an elderly Muslim grocer adopting a Jewish boy who's been stealing from him, what better group outing in London for the Alif-Aleph group? AAUK is an organisation co-founded by British Jews and Muslims to promote dialogue and amity between them. And as my Dad-in-law is a co-founder, I went along with him and the gang.
The play is a little too sweet for my taste, and Mr.B in the Guardian calls it 'an idyll for the soft-brained', but there was plenty to admire, I thought. The writing flows nicely, he can tell a story, can Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. But the piece is never too bothered with plausibility or emotional tangles, it presents an unashamedly emotional fantasy, where a fatherless boy finds a place in the world, and a lonely but sparky old man finds himself an heir. And the performance are simply wonderful. Ryan Sampson (he was in Over Gardens Out at Southwark last year) and Nadim Sawalha (Julia's dad) make the thing dance and hum.
No such whimsy on show at the Cardboard Citizens show on Monday at the Brady Centre in the East End, but plenty of cracking acting, provocative debate and an audience to die for. I'd never been to a forum play before, it was a real pleasure to discover the form. If you don't know, a forum play tells a story, asks you to have a think about key choices made and problems faced within it, then invites any audience member who thinks they can offer a fresh take in a particular scene to come take the place of the actor and act it through. We were shown three plays (two of them scripted by Penny Cliff, who invited me) showing three individuals sliding into homelessness, charting the mistakes and mischances that led them to lose control of their lives. The theatre was packed, and there was a vocal gaggle of black teenage girls, commenting in a leery patois the whole time. The woman facilitating the event (quite brilliantly), who was I think called Naomi Selwyn, kept an eye on them but didn't intervene. Perhaps she knew what was coming, because in Penny's play "Stella", about a girl thrown out by her parents when she falls pregnant, wouldn't you know it but when after several audience members had tried and failed to reason with Stella's hard-nosed parents, it was one of the gaggle who turned the situation round. With charm and grace, she asked the father to step out so she could talk to her mother, then she went to work on mother's heartstrings, asking her to remember how excited and scared she was when she was first pregnant, and asking for help. You could hear a pin drop as the mother's defences melted... then there was a roar like a goal going in at the football, when she turned to Stella to say, Alright, I'll help you through this.