Gate Theatre, London – until 3 December 2016
Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey’s set is a brilliant white, harsh, flickering, fluorescent lighting occupied by glass cages and nowhere to hide. It resembles an otherworldly waiting room cum detention centre, a place where Amor (Richard Sumitro) can re-enact poignant parts of his life and summon his friends, family and loved ones out of their cages at will.
He can conjure them forth to aid him in his narration (is it a conspiracy? Or is it paranoia?), but equally quickly banish them back if they fail to corroborate his version of events. Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s script jumps between reminiscence of the past and a confused retelling of the present, never quite sure where to place its footing.
I Call My Brothers starts with the attack and explores the suspicion that follows Amor whilst the dust is settling. The setting is in Amor’s head, his unsteady consciousness. Best friend Shavi (Jonas Khan) is the constant, a jovial character making light of the situation. In his cold, scientific world, Amor labels him as helium – chemical elements used to rationalise characters and equations substituted for more humane feelings.
But Director Tinuke Craig fails to replace emotion by logic, the result being a mismatched combination of awkward reactions and hesitant pauses throughout. The supporting female figures, estranged childhood sweetheart Valeria (Nadia Albina) and grandmother Tyra (Lanna Joffrey) portray a clearer interpretation, a mixture of supportive and pitying in contrasting quantities.
Khemiri writes as though the audience will naturally tend towards the racist accusations that Amor convinces himself are present in his world. In the aftermath of the attack, he takes on an ever more unhinged and twitchy state, convinced that society is following him. As surveillance operatives (also played by Joffrey) appear to follow his meanderings around the city, Craig accelerates the pace of the production: Amor starts to pale, sweat and double take as he spirals out of control.
Even the characters in his mental cages are more and more agitated; that is until he can no longer call them to arms to rally against the racial injustice, he can no longer process the isolating thoughts that build up throughout the show. The mental picture of Tyra and the physical presence of previously annoying Shavi are the only things to catch him before he falls apart completely. The mundane, irritating buzz of the phone as Shavi leaves another irrelevant voice mail is suddenly the life line he needs.
I Call My Brothers evokes images of rallying against the system, standing with your kin and protesting the prejudices thrust against your collective. In this case, Khemiri allows the pent-up desire to revolt to overwhelm the central character and undo him from within. This vision however needs a clearer definition in the story and a stronger theme to realise its impact.
I Call My Brothers is playing the Gate Theatre until 3 December 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Gate Theatre website.