Prayer Room, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In Shan Khan's new play, Prayer Room, conflict arises when people of one faith become protective over any extension of limits and the crossing of borders by those of another faith. Sound familiar? With its simmering confrontational atmosphere, the parallel between resentful students in the anonymous, utilitarian multi-faith prayer room of a further education establishment and Israel and Palestine is deliberate.

In a corner of their college, the Muslims and the Christians have established an uneasy truce, accepting their prescribed times and set days for occupying the room, supposedly for worship. When a small but determined Jewish following suggests a more equal division of time, in its favour, all hell breaks loose.

The torrent of profanities and hip slang - the language of everyday speech - rather than any actual words of faith make their mark here. As well as losing sight of the teachings of their religion, the young people lose their cool, tussling ferociously over precious space.

The differences of faith and each other's alien religious rituals - with a stand-off as far as compromise or meaningful engagement is concerned - become the catalyst for a tragic turn of events.

Many of the situations Khan sets up contain a lot of humour, as well as a more profound strain. Some of his well-defined characters are using religion to bolster their own egos, while others have found solace in their faith.

It's a tribute to Angus Jackson's well-paced production that none of the acting seems overblown or ridiculous. In fact, it's so good you recognise only too well the priggish, "holier than thou" Christian (William Ellis), the happy-clappy, mentally disturbed black student (Jimmy Akingbola turning in an exceptional performance), and the martyred expression on the face of Hannah Watkins, playing the bereaved Jewish girl. But perhaps you feel most sympathy for Jade (Ashley Madekwe), caught in a trap between love for her unreasonably idealistic Muslim man and her fondness for the trifling trappings and passing pleasures of her underprivileged Western upbringing.

The college principal, seeking to achieve peace and reconciliation after active indignation has boiled over into furious denunciation, is presented as a cliché, an overworked, distracted manager. His limitations as a mediator become increasingly obvious as the situation spirals out of control.

Despite the Muslim Khan's determination to play an even-handed game, the abrupt and unsatisfactory ending throws up a fanatical terrorist. It leaves a strange and sour taste in the mouth.

Yet, in spite of the play's shortcomings, it has not a whiff of formula about it and has the power to intrigue, startle and even offend.

Transferring to the Birmingham Rep (0121-236 4455) on 6 September

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