Cry Havoc by American playwright Tom Coash opens at the Park Theatre on Wednesday (27 Mar) and is the story of two gay men from different cultural backgrounds coming to terms with the problems their relationship brings them both. Dave Cross spoke to director Pamela Schermann about this fascinating play.
Hi Pamela, what’s the basic story and set up of Cry Havoc?
Cry Havoc is set in Egypt, and it is the story of two men from different cultural backgrounds, who met and fell in love. In times of turmoil and in a society where being gay is not widely accepted, they have to confront their beliefs as well as an oppressive government. When Mohammed, a young and spirited university graduate from Cairo, contemplates leaving Egypt for a life in the UK with his partner, British expat Nicholas, he has to question his responsibility towards society as well as his personal aspirations and ambitions. Does he have to leave Egypt in order to embrace his sexuality, or shall he stay in his home country – a country that he loves – and join his friends in the fight for a better government? And would he ever feel at home in the UK?
How would you describe the tone of the play?
The play, by American writer Tom Coash is a tender love story. Although it deals with political and social issues, it is very much a personal story. It is touching and daring, funny and sad at the same time. We see two men who fight for their love, but there are obstacles in their way. There’s the world outside, which doesn’t approve of their relationship, and they have to face their own fears, hopes and responsibilities. It is a gentle, heartwarming and very relatable play which deals with current issues as well as personal challenges and situations we all have come across at some point in our lives.
Can you tell us about the two main characters?
Nicholas is an idealistic British writer, and Mohammed a bright university graduate from Cairo. The two meet and fall in love instantly, but can’t ignore their different backgrounds. Mohammed struggles between his love for Nicholas and the love for his country, religion and family, while Nicholas has to face the reality of their situation and his own prejudices. Both men have to ask themselves where they belong and what they are willing to fight for. What I like about the characters is that they are both very relatable – they are likeable people with strengths and weaknesses. They make mistakes, they go through good times and bad times, and eventually they have to confront their inner fears and desires when they have to make a life-changing decision.
Is the play an accurate representation of life for LGBT+ people in modern Egypt?
The play draws on the experience of playwright Tom Coash, who spent four years in Cairo and met a colleague and his boyfriend while he was there. He experienced the anger and resentment in the neighbourhood after this man got arrested by the police in a sweep at a nightclub. This inspired the play. When I first read it, I wanted to put it on stage in London in order to raise awareness of the repression which the LGBTQ+ community still faces in wider international cultures.
And is the play also about the differences between the Western world and places like Egypt in a general sense?
Yes, what I personally like very much about this play is that it combines global,political issues with a intimate love story. It looks at the relationship between the Western world and the Middle East through the eyes of two people who ask if love can bridge a cultural divide. I think one of the biggest challenges we face these days is this divide between the so-called Western and Arabic world. There are prejudices in our society, and certain political powers try to create an atmosphere of hostility and fear of the foreign. Tom’s play confronts these prejudices, and challenges the general view in the Western world that everyone dreams of immigrating into our countries. This is a topical and current story for our time, and I hope that it will make people think and reflect.
Can you tell us about the cast?
With Marc Antolin, James El-Sharawy and Karren Winchester, we have an amazing cast for this show. They’ve previously performed in the West End, National Theatre, RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe, and other main stages. Marc recently starred in Kneehigh/Bristol Old Vic’s production of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, which toured the country, and as Seymour in Regent Park Open Air Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors – a role for which he received an Olivier Award nomination. James received praise for his roles in The Fifth Column and The Cutting of the Cloth at Southwark Playhouse, and Scattered at Theatr Cymru and Good Chance Theatre, Calais. They will be joined by Karren Winchester, who appeared in Les Blancs and Children of the Sun at the National Theatre, and The Madness of George III in the West End.