A reunion with an absent father at the age of 16 would be hard enough, but when he turns up out of the blue from Iraq with a gift you would rather not keep, the situation becomes potentially life-threatening. Mike Bartlett’s new play Artefacts is making its world premiere at the Bush theatre. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
Kelly’s life is turned upside down as the arrival of her father, Ibrahim, forces her to question her cultural identity and pre-judged views of the world. Having previously been kept in the dark as to his identity, she discovers that not only is she half Iraqi, or “Iringlish” as she eloquently puts it, but that she has a sister in Baghdad. Her father brings with him an ancient Mesopotamian vase which he gives to her as a gift, never revealing the huge responsibility ownership of it will entail. It is the start of an emotional and challenging journey that takes Kelly out of her comfort zone of normality as she knows it, into a war torn country that she cannot even begin to understand, as she questions whether she has any responsibility towards a father who views her as a convenient arrangement, rather than the daughter she so desperately wants to be.
As the action unfolds, the characters voice their internal monologues directly to the audience which sits 360 degrees around the stage, whilst the cast remains ignorant to each others' thoughts and desires. Using a simple set, the plain table and chairs blend in as much in the scenes set in London as in those in Iraq, suitably portraying both family homes. Only the rug reveals the difference, with its edges subtly dusted with gravel and dirt, a reminder of Iraq’s turbulent times.
The play challenges both Ibrahim and Kelly’s cultural prejudices. They struggle to understand each other, either attempting nervous, over-polite conversation, desperate to find common ground, or scream at each other in ways that the other has never been spoken to before. Kelly’s father cannot understand her ‘trivial’ thoughts and her ability to act without thinking, as much as she cannot fathom the sacrifices he is willing to make for the possibility of a safer Iraq.
Artefacts explores the different values the two cultures place importance on as we witness them collide, and questions the importance of an individual’s life against the future of a country.
Artefacts runs until 22 March at the Bush theatre.