Review: Hard Places – Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester

We think as national borders as a permanent feature, something immovable and solid. In reality though borders frequently shift as political factions come and go. What happens when one such border devides a community and a family?

Farhad Sorabjee’s Hard Places, receiving its UK premiere at the Colchester Mercury, looks at one such border. Although the story is officially not set in one particular location, Sorabjee was inspired by the Shouting Valley in the Golan Heights, a place where the Israeli border divides families. These families stand atop hill either side of the border, shouting to each other and carrying on as if the divide didn’t exist. Between them though is a deadly no-man’s land, covered by snipers and a mine field.

For Saira and Aziz, life one side of such a border is not complete without their mother, trapped on the other side of the wire. Each sibling though has their own motives for wanting their mother freed. For Saira there’s desperation to fill an emotional need, to be seen to do the right thing and reunite the family. For Aziz though there is a more political overtone, the sense that his mother can become a figurehead for some political movement.

As the practicalities of crossing the closed border hits home though, it seems there are secrets hidden by all three parties.

Sorabjee’s writing digs deep into the soul and it’s not always an easy ride. Patience and some work by the audience though are rewarded through a rich, textured look at the impact distance, however tantalisingly small can have on individuals. It’s a slow burn of a production that releases it secrets bit by bit, but this in turn builds the requisite tension in the piece.

There are beautifully observed portrayals from all three actors. Shernaz Patel’s intense yet moving daughter Saira, Nabil Stuart’s rage filled Aziz and Jasmina Daniel’s quiet, reflective mother. There’s a real sense of family cohesion despite the many differences and physical separation all suffer.

Chris White’s production, played against Paul Burgess’ simple, yet effective, set, teases out detail a stand at a time, never losing focus or momentum. Without wishing to give away any plot twists, in a way it seems the final scene is somewhat superfluous and the piece may probably be stronger ending 15 minutes earlier on a dramatic cliff-hanger. As it is the piece perhaps ends too neatly for such a tangled situation – sometimes it’s more powerful to leave things hanging unsaid.

It’s a small quibble with an otherwise powerful and moving piece that delves deep into the human spirit. Regardless of its location, the divisive nature of barbed wire, fences and deadly no-man’s land echoes in many communities across history, these Hard Places a blot on many countries history books.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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