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Review: Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre - powerful and punchy play on words

Yusra Warsama  Issam Al Ghussain  Kosar Ali  Simon Manyonda  Sirine Saba Word-Play Royal Court Johan Persson
Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre July 2023 l-r Yusra Warsama, Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba. Photo Johan Persson

Rabiah Hussain's play Word-Play starts with a PR team in crisis mode, having just heard the Prime Minister use a particular word (we don't know what that word is) in a live interview. The press and social media are crawling all over it.

The Prime Minister refuses to apologise, and there are hints of a less sweary Thick Of It as one of the team Googles synonyms for 'sorry' for the statement they want to put out.

Performed behind a glass screen at one end of the oblong performance space, it gives the sense of being a clinical observer. We return to the story later, and there are also snippets of reactions in Whatsapp groups and social media. 

But the bulk of the play is a mixture of monologues and scenes exploring the complexity and power of words, particularly when it comes to culture and identity.

In one scene, impartiality is challenged to the point where choosing certain descriptive words is deemed 'opinion'. In another, a father is racked with guilt have having told his children the lie that 'names don't hurt'.

And in another, 'See it, say it, sorted' sparks a debate on what is and isn't normal.

The most powerful is the final story of a mother who is challenged over the use of her mother tongue when her young daughter uses it at school.

Less effective are the scenes where words are repeated and shouted - to what end?

The majority of the play is performed in the central space (audience on three sides) with the occasional use of plastic chairs although there is one amusing and tongue-in-cheek meta moment involving the audience.

Word-Play punches at appropriation, prejudice, and the distortion of meaning. It highlights how meaning can be ascribed through the lens of who uses or hears the word. And how language is rich, fluid and powerful.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Word-Play, Royal Court Theatre

Written by Rabiah Hussain

Directed by Nimmo Ismail

Cast: Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba, Yusra Warsama

Running time 80 minutes, no interval

Booking until 26 August; for more details and to buy tickets, visit the Royal Court's website.

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