Park Theatre, London – until 4 August 2018
Love London Love Culture’s Emma Clarendon went to the Park Theatre to watch the world premiere of Stephanie Martin’s Alkaline.
This short but sharp play asks a lot of questions about multiculturalism, faith and friendship as seen through the eyes of two different couples with different sets of problems.
Taking place over the course of an evening, Sophie has invited her friend Sarah and her partner Ali around to celebrate getting engaged to Nick, but she is surprised when she discovers Sarah has converted to Islam. As the evening gets progressively more intense, all of the character’s flaws threaten to divide them – particularly when an additional (unexpected) guest arrives.
Sensitively directed by Sarah Meadows, Alkaline offers a balanced look at different attitudes towards faith and religion but it is not made entirely clear if it has anything new to say about the topic. Every awkward moment that crops up – such as during a conversation when Sophie asks Sarah not to wear her headscarf at her wedding or when Sophie rips into Nick about being all words and no action when it comes to immigration because it doesn’t affect him personally – are issues that have brought up (rightly so) in other plays – but Alkaline needs to build a stronger case for what it is trying to say in a fresh way.
However, Stephanie Martin has created a play that is filled with plenty of sharply witty lines (too many to mention here) that breaks up or increases the tension, according to what impact she is trying to make on the audience at a particular point and can be used effectively to highlight the characters’ flaws and insecurities.
With her production, Sarah Meadows beautifully highlights the increasing tension between the couples that gradually makes the audience feel uncomfortable, particularly given the intimacy of the Park90 space and Georgia de Grey’s elaborate and cosy set design.
Performance wise, Claire Cartwright stands out as Sarah, who has found an inner peace and acceptance after her conversion to Islam. It is a performance that combines the character’s inner strength but ultimately guilt at the situation she has found herself in particularly with regards to Ali separating from his wife beautifully well, while a touch of vulnerability at Sophie’s attitude towards her and Ali. Meanwhile, EJ Martin portray’s Sophie’s confusion and occasionally too blunt attitude towards Sarah and the religion she has converted to well – delivering her lines with sharpness that can make the audience wince “is that a Muslim thing?” for example. Nitin Kundra as Ali is passionate and articulate, a performance that does make the audience sit up and pay attention, particularly when he notes how fathers have it more difficult in custody cases.
Overall, although Alkaline as a production is engaging and thought-provoking in the way in which it draws out the arguments on all sides, but as a play it doesn’t seem to suggest anything new about attitudes towards multiculturalism and faith that hasn’t been explored before – it needs a stronger argument at its core.