The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Think you could pass the British citizenship test? Don’t be so sure – it’s a rare person that’s able to reel off the date of the Magna Carta before explaining who the hell King Cnut was. And ‘rare’ is an apt description of Carlos Fuentes, the protagonist of Rashid Razaq’s new play adapted from a short story by Hassan Blasim. His struggle with national identity goes much deeper than his ability to name all of Henry VIII’s wives.

Played with an endearing wide-eyed naïveté by an excellent Nabil Elouahabi, Carlos’s character is only fully revealed to us at the end. Without giving too much away, the plot jumps around in time and place: we see Carlos getting interviewed by the Home Office for asylum, on a dirty weekend with an English woman who helps him prepare for his citizenship test and his life working at a Lebanese restaurant. Eventually we come to understand why he fled Iraq and left behind his wife and child.

Carlos’s journey has some very funny moments – being handcuffed to the bed in a sex game is one, his encounter with a baffled Home Office employee another. But there’s tragedy here too: in Carlos’s tumultuous journey we see how his life is a product of a country that still can’t offer its citizens peace or stability. And director Nicolas Kent’s use of footage of Blair, Cameron, Bush and Obama implies that in this, we are all complicit.

The slightly convoluted play benefits immensely from a strong injection of clarity brought by Kent. As a story it’s intriguing and affecting, but the odd plot strand left hanging means the message loses its way in the middle. The production is slickly directed however, with some superb performances from Elouahabi and also Caroline Langrishe as Carlos’s new wife, whose humour and eventual tenderness is arresting.

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