“I haven’t taken a taxi since Rotherham”
It’s hard to imagine a time, in the near future at least, when multiculturalism in the UK won’t be a hot button issue – if nothing else, what would certain elements of the press be pitifully obsessed with instead? So naturally, John Hollingworth’s play Multitudes – his first – feels well timed, how could it not – Jihadi John and schoolgirl recruits for Islamic State dominate the front pages, the shockwaves of Charlie Hebdo are still rippling around with inflammatory polls further stirring the pot and the nefarious impact of UKIP on British politics remains impossible to escape,
Trying to make sense of these multiple strands is a job and a half for even the most seasoned of commentators and it’s not immediately apparent that Hollingworth is the man for the job as he layers all this and more into his play. But once Indhu Rubasingham’s production finds its feet in the swirl of the melting pot and one becomes accustomed to its rhythms, Multitudes’ noisy energy makes sense. Hollingworth doesn’t set out to give us answers, such as they could possibly exist, but rather gives a portrayal of of the messiness of race debates in British society.
This he does by intertwining the trials of an extended Bradford family. Tory councillor Kash wants to become an MP but a new war of terror )and its accompanying political rhetoric) has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment and his daughter Qadira is part of an increasingly vocal anti-war peace camp who want to disrupt the Conservative Party conference. On top of that, Kash’s white partner has converted to Islam which in turn has provoked her mother, a Tory grandee in her own right, to go public with her own anti-immigrant bigotry. With supporting character two-a-penny too, there’s a lot to take in.
It is fiercely acted though, which feels half the battle won here, as each main character is fully fleshed out with balanced portraits. Navin Chowdhry’s more-‘British’-than-the-British Kash struggles with the realisation that acceptance remains skin-deep, Salma Hoque’s Qadira gives a compelling rationale for turning to radicalisation, Clare Calbraith’s Natalie relays the real emotional succour of those newly engaged in a faith that speaks to them, and even Jacqueline King’s Lyn is allowed the space to defend her little corner of Little England in the fast-moving screens of Richard Kent’s design. Multitudes may not be a perfect piece of drama but it is certainly one of the most thought-provoking in London right now.