Recent events have rendered the play Cry Havoc even more relevant now than when it was first written a decade ago, when the Arab Spring was still deep in slumbering winter. By LESLEY STONES.
Cry Havoc is a play very much of today’s times, with terrorists wreaking havoc in Kenya joining the dots to make Muslim extremists a threat to everyone, not something we can dismiss as a Middle East or American problem.
The words ‘Cry Havoc’ stem from an ancient English military order that unleashed soldiers to pillage conquered lands. In this play by American author Tom Coash, the western colonialists are still pillaging, ironically represented by the rather lame Nicholas (David Dennis) who feels about as savage as a poodle. But it’s what he represents that his Egyptian lover Mohammed (Gopala Chetty) takes exception to.
Coash has given us a gay relationship that vividly portrays the metaphor of the western world buggering the east. The west pumps in its money and expects to impose its alliances, beliefs, morals and even its clothes on the weaker nations.
Photo: Jan Potgieter
Cry Havoc is part of the annual That’s So Gay festival staged by the University of Johannesburg (UJ). But it’s a political play rather than a love story, since the attraction needed to convince as a love story is absent from the start.
Dennis makes the tenderness his character feels for Mohammed apparent, but Chetty shows no reciprocal emotions. Hopefully that’s deliberate, as if we’ve entered at a stage when his feelings have already died.
It succeeds far better as an attempt to explain the evolution of a hell-raising religious fundamentalist. The script thoroughly lays bare the brutality of the Egyptian dictatorship, and we watch Mohammed evolve from a critic of the government to a beaten and brutalised victim who rises to fight back.
Photo: Jan Potgieter
He tells how he watched another man being beaten, and felt too afraid to help. “I should get a medal as the perfect citizen,” he spits. Chetty is grimly believable as a newly fired up terrorist, his sights set on God and his hands full of blood.
Dennis gives us a composed yet confused man well out of his depth as his simple idea of love overcoming all is shattered. The best part of his performance comes when he is talking almost to himself, perhaps because his moments with Mohammed don’t entirely gel.
Director Alby Michaels never lets the pace flag despite the wordy script and it’s an extremely professional production. It’s set in a claustrophobic flat in Cairo with noises of the city spilling in. Video clips add to the mood, while a large Union Jack helps signal the change of setting when Nicholas takes his plea to the British Embassy.
Photo: Jan Potgieter
Brenda Radloff as the neat and supremely assured consul worker is a total stereotype, but she injects enough wry humour to both take the mickey and steal the limelight.
There’s a theme running through of how love always drives extreme actions, be it pining away from unrequited love or blowing up a building for the love of Allah.
Mohammed’s reasons for morphing into a terrorist and viciously rejecting plans to escape certainly sound convincing. Then again, even though Coash spent four years teaching in Cairo, he is of course a western man. So perhaps the cycle of the west imposing its ideas onto other countries is merely continuing in this interpretation of how they may rebel.
Cry Havoc runs at UJ’s Con Cowan Theatre on the Bunting Road Campus until October 19. DM
Main photo: Jan Potgieter
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