Calling into question the very nature of identity and the idea of belonging, Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Invasion! attempts to open a debate with the audience and address deep-set prejudices and stereotypes. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience at the Soho theatre.
The play opens with two Shakespearean-esque actors flouncing around on stage, over acting, with bosoms heaving. Before you can begin to worry about the following 90 minutes ahead, two young hoodies bound on stage from the audience, heckling the actors and dismantling the set. The house lights are brought up and the actors storm off, unable to work under such circumstances. This is just the first of many surprises and changes of narrative during the satirical, political drama Invasion!. The young men, complete with tracksuits and schoolboy humour, begin to tell the audience the story of Abulkasem. At first a man’s name, the word is mutated until it becomes a meaning for anything, utterly lost in translation.
It is this lack of meaning which is called into question in the play, with a series of different characters explaining how the word or name Abulkasem altered the paths of their lives. Beginning as a myth but evolving into an integral part of history, lecturers hold a debate on the history of a man called Abul Kasem, hated by all, but for no logical reasons. A savvy student from Kazakhstan, fed up of explaining her family’s heritage, uses a fictional account of Abul Kasem to astound her small-minded fellow students. A young Indian uses the name to pick up girls in a bar, tired of explaining his foreign name.
This abstract concept allows the characters to play up to social stereotypes, with frequent casual racism bantered around, stumping the audience as to whether they are meant to laugh or be shocked. A metaphor for ethic minorities living in Europe, what Abulkasem means to each character, and in fact the audience by the time they leave the theatre, is a direct parallel to the inbuilt clichéd beliefs they suggest society has about immigrants and minority groups. This idea climaxes in a scene in which a man speaking about Abba in broken English and Arabic is translated by an interpreter who replaces his dialogue with her own version of his story in which he is actually a suicide bomber walking to his death.
Playing with different narratives and methods of interacting with the audience, the actors take on numerous roles, switching character with a change of clothing, emotion or accent. At points we are told someone will perform a monologue while the other actors describe his stage directions; other scenes are acted out in a more conventional manner but with the added insight of the character’s internal monologue also described to us.
Invasion! is a clever look at the snap judgements people often make of others, without even questioning where these unfounded beliefs developed from, or whether there can actually be any intelligence behind them. The manic, confusing style of the play leaves the audience questioning the stupidity behind ridiculous stereotypes we can all fall prey to.