Who is Abulkasem? Initially, in this sassy, street-smart production about Muslim identity, he’s an archetypal Arab marauder in Swedish literary giant Carl-Jonas-Love Almqvist’s 1835 play, ‘Signora Luna’. Before long, two hoodie-wearing boys from the stalls interrupt a straight performance of this classic, rudely co-opting the dramatic action.
For Arvind and Co, Abulkasem is an act of linguistic banditry, and later a desperate chat-up line in a downtrodden bar. Arvind’s dramatic heist turns out to be the first of many in Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s dazzlingly meta-dramatic play.
For a panel of Swedish academics, Abulkasem is a jihadi terrorsit; for a harassed young student in a bar he is a brilliant Arab female theatre director; to a marooned Bosnian refugee he’s a vague racist threat; and, tying all these disparate tales together, Abulkasem is a news item, starring the playwright’s younger brother.
Director Jamie Harper propels this theatrical Escher print forwards at a furious pace, and cumulatively the shards of dramatic styles and scenarios make a perfect, deranged sense: Muslims in the West today stare into just such a broken mirror of irreconcilable mythologies. The four-strong cast is assured, Mariam Haque and William El-Gardi in particular deliver mercurial comic performances in their myriad incarnations. And while Khemiri’s unending Pirandellian tricks occasionally tire, this constitutes a cracking debut from Tooting Arts Club – a fringe production of the first order.