The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, Arcola Theatre, review: Witty and rawly topical

4.00

 

When he was the artistic director of the Tricycle, Nicolas Kent was renowned for the creative tenacity with which he kept the heat turned up on the issue of Iraq – not least in the tribunal show that put Tony Blair (in absentia) in the dock for war crimes.  Now as a freelance again after many years, Kent is in no mind to let go of the subject. 

The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes is Rashid Razaq's  blackly witty, tonally false-footing and cumulatively devastating play based on a short story by the exiled Iraqi film-maker and writer, Hassan Blasim. The latter's collection, The Iraqi Christ, won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

To judge from the text of the play, it seems to have been Kent's idea to run footage, at the start and between the scenes, of Bush, Blair, Brown, Blair again, Obama and Cameron spouting their various self-interested justifications first for sending in the troops and then withdrawing them.  The chronological nature of this sequence works eloquently as a mordant reminder of persistent political insensitivity as the play itself  – jumping about in time – tells the story of the terrible fate of one man. 

When we first meet Carlos (ne Salim) – who is beautifully played in all his zigzagging stages by Nabil Elouahabi – he is handcuffed to the bed post in a snazzy English hotel.  He's having a dirty weekend with fifty-something top totty Lydia (pitch-perfect Caroline Langrishe) and we seem to be in hilarious Ray Cooney-land – No Sex Please, I'm an Asylum-Seeker – as he fends off her libidinal urges in favour of being tested for his forthcoming citizenship test.  Ask Carlos about the eleventh-century king who stopped the waves, and he's in like a flash, even if he doesn't get the pronunciation quite right. 

Nabil Elouahabi (Carlos Fuentes) & Sara Bahadori (Sahar Husain) Nabil Elouahabi (Carlos Fuentes) and Sara Bahadori (Sahar Husain) There are some very good jokes at the expense of religious sectarianian, false ideas of Britishness, and bureaucratic logic-chopping about the type of persecution it is permissible to flee from.  When he tells her he has come here to escape religion, the sorely tried Scots case worker (deliciously funny Sara Bahadori) tells him helpfully  that “the last time I checked, God wasn't on the Home Office's recognized list dictators” but mental illness, if it couldn't treated in his country of origin, might be the gambit to plump for.

In fact, those words accrue a bitter irony in later scenes in Baghdad where we discover just why Carlos/Salim has come to Britain  – and the mental price he pays as the demons of the past come to haunt him.  I never fully believed that a woman like Lydia (a power-broker in the re-branding business  nudge, nudge) would pick up and wed a man who, when she initially encounters him, is a waiter in a Lebanese restaurant.  

But there's a brilliant Kafka-esque quality to an episode where he awakens at Heathrow, drugged, bewildered and handcuffed to Kevin a private security guard (a gloatingly callous Selva Rasalingham) who asks him to recommend museums in Baghdad (he reads out Tripadvisor reviews on his I-phone) for the 6 hours' “downtime” Kevin will soon is going to be enjoying there. 

I regret to say that I haven't yet read any of Hassan Blasim's fiction.  This show (expertly directed and rawly topical) is a strong inducement to do so.

To Aug 16; 020 7503 1646

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...