In My Name @ Old Red Lion, London

cast list
James Alexandrou
Ray Panthaki
Kevin Watt
Adeel Akhtar

directed by
John Howlet
Steven Heveys first full length play is another memorable entry into the growing canon of theatre focusing on British military engagements since 2001. This time we are given a specific time and place: the terrorist attacks of July 7th 2005.

In My Name takes place shortly after the attack in a squalid London flat. It belongs to Grim, played by James Alexandrou (best known as Martin Fowler in Eastenders). And Grim is a name that befits his bedraggled appearance and pigsty apartment. Theres barely any natural light, just an exposed bulb which casts its sickly glow over the scene. His new flatmate is Egg, an ex-marine. Egg is highly agitated when we first see him, but his anxiety is offset by Grims suggestion that they play a round of kids’ game Guess Who?

It initially seems like a classic odd couple set up, albeit one with a very contemporary twist. Watts has an inner rage coupled with a paranoid edge that continually rupture his vain attempts at calm. This is in total contrast with the plodding, gormlessness of Alexandrous Grim, who, at times, seems to be emulating a kind of loutish Frank Spencer. To this not unfamiliar mix, Hevey adds a British-Asian character, Royal, played by Ray Panthanki. He is very convincing as the hip, self-aggrandising wide boy. Royal injects a different element into the mens relationship, with his urban-working youth speak, his static strutting, narcotics and narcissism. This doesnt stop Egg from victimising him because of his ethnic background and, later, taking an Indian deliveryman hostage, suspecting him of terrorism.

The intimate scale of the Old Red Lions performance space is a huge advantage for the cast. The sudden violence and emotional ups-and-downs that pepper the later scenes are more powerful in close quarters. That said, the plot doesnt run particularly smoothly, relying on clumsy twists and turns, losing its sense of tension along the way. The dramatic pace is impeded by implausible non-sequiturs and lame gags.

One of Heveys main interests seems to be the exploration of identity and the shifting nature of self-definition. His writing focuses on some well-worn topics: what it means to be British, what it means to be an outsider in society. But despite using a landmark moment in recent British history as a springboard for his ideas, he hesitates to challenge or to add much that is new to the discussion.

His characters speak of wanting to believe in something, like when I was a kid and the play makes a valiant attempt to explore our societys endemic apathy, but theres not enough substance to the writing to justify the plays morbid finale, or to lift it above the average. The cast, despite giving consistently strong performances, also failed gel well together. This is a thoughtful production, staged by a team with much talent, but it wasnt able to pull itself together and capitalise on the considerable potential on display.

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