A world under the floorboards

10 April 2008

The Fate of a Cockroach, Corpus Playroom, 4-8 March, 19:00

Three Stars

Reviewer Ruth Halkon

Creep into the dark spaces under the bath, into the realm of the cockroaches; beset by tyranny, marital trouble and the ever present threat of ant invasion. This darkly comic play, written by Tewfik al Hakim and directed by Irum Fazal is at once fantastic and realist, funny and thought provoking; exploring through insects, the problems of communication, self determination and the fate of man.

The echo of water dripping in the darkness, the stage an underground world where strange things lurk in corners, strange things which moved and became cockroaches; played by Kamal Hussain and Irum Fazal, whose graceful, crawling movements fitted completely their insect characters. Hussain as King Cockroach, and as the factory worker Adil in the second Act, was a roguish, endearing presence. Through gestures and dance, Hussain evoked at once the surreal insect and the pompous yet good hearted king, ruled by his wife (Fazal) and by the conflicting forces of religion, rationalism and politics. Fazal was convincing as the quietly controlling wife of King Cockroach and of Adil, a rational force as, faced with the ant problem; the cockroaches discuss the merits of socialism, free will and the existence of God.

The brightening lights were an effective transition between the cockroach and human world, the human world paralleling the insect one, where Adil, mesmerised by the King Cockroach’s repeated yet vain struggles to escape the bathtub, tries to find inspiration in the heroic insect to continue his own Kafkaesque struggles with life.

The script switches between Arabic and English, momentarily confusing the non Arabic speakers in the audience, yet emphasising the communication problems that are a theme of the play. More than proficient acting overcomes this language barrier, and the evocative use of haunting Arabic prayers, delivered competently by members of the cast, intensified this glimpse into another culture, plagued by universal problems.

Sound, costume and lighting were used to great effect in transforming the stage into a subterranean world, and the actors into insects; and then into the bathroom of an ordinary house. The production suffered from technical difficulties. Most notably the absence of a program and problems with translations on the overhead projector meant that the English speaking audience were left baffled when the actors spoke Arabic. I am sure, however, that these are only first night problems which will be swiftly and effectively overcome.