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Greed, altruism, identity, mistrust and prejudice are all wrapped up in Alexandra Wood’s new play ‘The Initiate’. It’s a carefully wrought work which cleverly explores its themes through the story of one man’s mission to save the lives of two strangers.
Beginning in London and moving to Somalia then back again, Wood’s protagonist is a taxi driver, called only Man, who came to the UK from Somalia over 20 years ago, raised his family in the capital and calls our country his home. When news arrives of the capture and ransom of a British couple by Somalian pirates, and his son begins to be bullied because of it, he decides to raise some money and go out to negotiate for their lives. When he gets to the couple, their initial mistrust of him, though understandable, is an uncomfortable reflection of what he has experienced back home.
George Perrin’s production, as with most of the plays on at Paines Plough’s Roundabout stage this festival, keeps things simple. There’s no set, only three performers who play all the parts, with scene changes are denoted by a shift in lighting and signals in the text. Andrew French as Man and Abdul Salis and Sian Reese-Williams as the rest of the characters are excellent: delivering Wood’s smart, often quick fire text with clarity and conviction. Their performances bring the world of the play sharply into focus.
The play itself has many layers and it is often difficult to discern exactly what Wood wants it to be. Is ‘The Initiate’ about our mistrust of ‘the other’? Is it about humanity’s selfish capacity to help itself under the guise of benevolence towards others? This is undeniably a script that’s hard to untangle, but it’s also an unsettling, forthright piece of writing that will leave you thinking.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell