Hope Theatre, London – until 7 April 2018
Anybody who remembers 2005 will remember how the 7/7 attack affected the public consciousness. With memories of 9/11 still fresh and the media endlessly reporting on the ‘war on terror’, that summer’s day did little to assauge concerns about ‘the enemy within’. Written by Stephanie Silver and directed by Calum Robshaw, Our Big Love Story examines the effect of 7/7 on the next generation – those who were at school when the atrocity took place.
At school there’s a mutual attraction between Destiny (Holly Ashman) and Anjum (Naina Kohli). However, 7/7 prompts a different response from Destiny, as she starts to regurgitate the philosophy of her father who holds meetings for the English Defence League. Living next door to Destiny is ‘the Teacher’ (Osman Baig) who happened to be travelling on one of the affected transport on that fateful day. He survived the blast, but others have taken it upon themselves to regularly pelt his house with eggs, namely Jack (Alex Britt).
One thing that Jack shares in common with Destiny is that before the incident, they were both happy, well-adjusted people who were content. In Jack’s case, there are remnants of his dad’s influence, which shows in his respectful treatment of classmate Katie (Emelia Marshall Lovsey). However, his grief leads to looking for someone to blame for his father’s death.
Before the attack, Destiny was very much her own person and hadn’t assimilated her father’s bigoted opinions. Post-7/7, however, she’s not so sure her father isn’t wrong, resulting in her distancing herself from Anjum. There’s a line in the play (I’m paraphrasing here) about “Destiny… not being able to escape her future”, a sentiment lifted straight from Greek tragedy, and the reason I think the character was given that name. Traditionally, the sins/behaviour of the fathers are often inherited by their offspring. The question remains whether Destiny or the others will be true to themselves and chart their own fate…
Sitting within the eye of the storm lies ‘the Teacher’. A devoted Muslim, he offers the ‘other’ perspective. Bearing the brunt of suspicion post-7/7, he concludes people in general can’t tell the different between being religious and being radical – a statement that applies to everyone both sides of the fence. Unbeknownst to most people, he also suffers from PTSD – reliving the moments of the blast and the people he saw injured. It’s rare to see a Muslim character in a play. It’s rarer still to see one who is candid about their loss of faith and uncertainty after seeing death up close. But it is his journey and his effect on others that provides the play a ray of hope – that people’s perceptions can change and ultimately find a measure of humanity.
One might think the play is relentlessly hard-going. If anything, levity isn’t in short supply and there are plenty of moments where the ‘better’ sides of characters are manifest. However, when things do change, it’s 180 degrees and all the more disturbing that people who are ‘congenial’ one minute are capable of doing ‘other things’…
While the play is set 13 years ago, many of the issues that Our Big Love Story raises are very pertinent today, as they have never really ‘gone away’. It offers a sobre and timely perspective on the individual versus society, and the struggle to retain one’s humanity.