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Reviewed by Simon Fearn
A one-man show exploring the Israeli-Gaza conflict and Islamophobia could easily have been a harrowing experience. Thankfully, Hassan Abdulrazzak’s intensely human script and Asif Khan’s assured multi-role performance meant that Love, Bombs and Apples went far beyond its divisive political backdrop on the first night of its UK tour.
The play is an anthology of four monologues, cataloguing the often mundane hopes and dreams of four men in politically charged environments. Abdulrazzak’s writing is so compelling because it often foregrounds the personal over the political — his protagonists fantasise about sex, iPhones and literary fame. A political joke at the start of the play may have only resulted in polite chuckles as it soared over the audience’s heads but we were all laughing at Emad’s raging libido.
The focus on character over context allows Abdulrazzak to gently make some astute political observations. The appeal of ISIS and iPhones were disarmingly compared to each other in order to reveal the West’s culpability in the ongoing conflict; discrimination against Muslims from employers and the police was given an unusually comic twist; and “bleeding heart liberals” were subjected to wry mockery.
The fourth monologue, ‘Landing Strip’, was perhaps where the balance between the political and the personal was upset. The story follows a father and son affiliated with AIPAC (the US pro-Israel lobby) and their attempts to silence critics of Israel through accusations of anti-Semitism. At one point a character compares the formation of Israel to Mexico annexing Texas, which may prove a little too divisive for some audience members. On the whole though, the play’s politics were well-reasoned and unintrusive.
Asif Khan helped to smooth over any difficulties in the play’s handling of taboo subjects. He was sometimes unrecognisable when he transitioned between the characters and was particularly successful when playing a Bradford teenager. He managed to combine the energy of stand-up with the naturalism of theatre and even the more unlikable characters he portrayed were compelling. Not only did Khan master all four roles but he also conveyed a real sense of the minor characters in each tale, in particular Isaac’s girlfriend in ‘Landing Strip’.
Rosamunde Hutt’s artistic direction also gave the show variety and complexity. We found the characters both reliving key moments from their past and affably narrating their experiences to the audience and the transitions between the different styles of storytelling were seamless. The audience interaction was a little laboured at times however and Khan notably accosted the same audience member three times—a timely reminder to take a front row seat with caution. In Hutt and Khan’s hands, the monologues became much more than mere speeches and Khan’s interactions with invisible characters appeared entirely natural.
Love, Bombs and Apples deals with difficult and emotive topics, yet the end result is surprisingly heart-warming. If there was a take-home message, it was perhaps a reminder not to lose sight of the ordinary people caught up in political conflicts across the globe.