"Hussain is able to develop a complex treatment of the characters and how they are formed by the situation and events....In examining the story of these women, we are forced to examine our own attitudes to outsiders and to the vulnerable in society."

Downstage Centre

For those who like things clear from the word go, it is worthwhile checking out the plot of Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, the novel that acts as the starting point for this tale of two women.

 

However this would be solely to avoid being distracted from this exquisitely structured and beautifully acted piece of theatre which uses the story to raise many issues – both personal and political – that are, if anything, Hussain is able to develop a complex treatment of the characters and how they are formed by the situation and eventsmore topical now than when Camus was writing (the cyclical nature of which is emphasised by the violence of gunshots at the start and the end).


The novel, set in French Algeria (here effectively evoked by the simple set) tells the story of Meursault, who is tried and executed for the murder of an Arab. However, Camus’s focus is entirely on Meursault and those close to him. This play isn’t the first attempt to show events from a different viewpoint and give a voice to the Arabs. Kamel Daoud’s much-lauded novel, The Meursault Investigation, is a retelling of events by the brother of ‘the Arab’. In this play, Emteaz Hussain also redresses the balance by giving a voice to the women in the novel. By exploring the story as seen through the eyes of Marie, Meursault’s fiancĂ©e, and Sumaya, sister of the victim and the girlfriend of Meursault and Marie’s neighbour Raymond (whose savage assault on Sumaya sparks the events leading to the murder), Hussain is able to develop a complex treatment of the characters and how they are formed by the situation and events.
 

Identity

The play reveals that Marie and Sumaya, subtly but expertly presented by Lou Broadbent and Sara Sadeghi as fully rounded and convincing characters, have met many times, but their aim now is to engage the audience as each tries to convince us of the validity of her viewpoint. Each has a different call on the audience’s emotions. For Marie, it is her lost dream of marriage and of a happy ever after, while for Sumaya, it is the need to give an identity to her brother and a voice to all the Arabs. Their personal story allows themes to emerge of belonging and identify, of justice and oppression. However, the more they emphasise their differences, the more we see the similarities between them. Both sought escape and, as a result, both are rejected by their cultures and are left isolated. In examining the story of these women, we are forced to examine our own attitudes to outsiders and to the vulnerable in society.  

 

Johanna Roberts