Screens, Theatre 503, London ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Stephen Laughton’s new play tries to fit a lot into its 65-minute running time. National identity of second-generation immigrants, Brexit-inspired racism, sibling rivalry, homophobia, dating apps, Guardian readers’ assumptions about conflicts and their causes, and the modern world’s over-dependence on mobile phones. If you were thinking that what a one-act play covering all those topics also needed was a decapitated cat being carried around in a supermarket bag–for–life, you’re in luck.

Laughton’s play revolves around Declan Perring’s Al, a young gay man from a Turkish Cypriot family who tries to juggle his family responsibilities with looking for decent men on Grindr whose first message isn’t a pornographic photo. Meanwhile, his mother, already upset over the discovery of said dead cat, receives an email that calls into question her identity and that of her children, while her daughter Ayşe splits her time between Instagram and casually dissing her gay brother.

Laughton’s dialogue, especially in the opening scenes, rockets along at a fast pace, even when his characters (especially Perring and Nadia Hynes’s Ayşe) indulge in repetitive dialogue. There is a sense of honesty in these opening scenes, with Al and Ayşe’s sibling rivalry exposing itself in the latter’s casual homophobia towards her brother as if she has found the one thing that gives her power over him.

Laughton uses a prospective date for Al, with Paul Bloomfield’s over-earnest Ben, to expose the conflicts of a second-generation immigrant who considers himself British with his sense of fealty to his parents’ homeland. In the argument which ensues – with discussion moving quickly from Pokémon Go to Brexit and the political ambitions of Theresa May – the play comes its closest to polemicism, albeit establishing the plot points that drive the rest of the play. For when Al’s mother Emine (in a fine performance by Fisun Burgess) reveals that she was adopted and that her family’s heritage is not what her children have been led to believe, Laughton’s ear for naturalistic dialogue kicks in once more.

The back half of the play shifts towards Hynes, who finds a voice for an expression of a teenager’s desire to fit in while also being distinctive and special. And while the play’s explosive conclusion relies a little too heavily on a single, big coincidence, Screens fights shy of wrapping up complex emotions with a neat and tidy bow. With a simple staging by designer Georgia Lowe, Laughton’s exploration of identity, either despite or because of trying to pack so much in, continues to unpack itself in one’s mind long after the house lights have come up.

Continues until September 3. theatre503.com

Advertisements