The Algebra of Freedom
It’s not often we’re called upon to be sympathetic to the police officers who mistakenly killed Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Underground in July 2005. Nor are we expected to find time for those fundamentalists who prefer the bomb to the ballot box. But in her new play for 7:84 Theatre Company, Raman Mundair asks us to step beyond our knee-jerk reactions, to accept that bad stuff happens and to ask whether forgiveness, reconciliation and progress might be possible.
Everything in The Algebra of Freedom points towards an explosive showdown. What other resolution is possible when, sharing the same city, there are policemen with blood on their hands and Muslims fulminating at their treatment by the West? It seems inevitable the social pressures weighing down on Mundair’s characters will lead to further violence. In a series of short, televisual scenes, the playwright shows how the ‘war on terror’ polarises people, forcing them through fear, anger or disenfranchisement to conform to the values of aggression and distrust.
Playing a policeman who has been involved in an incident closely paralleling the De Menezes case, Robert Jack is haunted by guilt and tormented by the bunker mentality of his fellow officers. Playing a taxi driver who has lost his wife, Simon Rivers is gripped by the self-destructive behaviour of a man too soon bereaved and finds himself a prime target for terrorist recruitment. Yet when the two finally come together, it is not with a bang of violence, but a whimper of self-pity. Refusing the macho certainties of the men around them, they open themselves to their feminine sides and the possibility of change.
Delivered with a punch by director Jo Ronan, the play lacks an emotional and political kick, but captures something of the flavour of a troubled world in search of answers. (Mark Fisher)
Arches Theatre, Glasgow. Now touring