One of the many statistical ‘facts’ that came out of the Brexit referendum last year was areas of Britain that had little or no visitors from overseas where the most fearful over growing immigration, especially with older voters. Tackling this subject head on, Instinct’s Theatre’s Tea and Good Intentions is a gentle comedy that uses humour to disarming effect and challenge this perception.
Written by Felicity Huxley-Miners and directed by Adam Morley, Tea and Good Intentions can, tonally, be described as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Emmerdale with a dash of Calendar Girls (a film reference the play itself acknowledges during one funny quip).
Hilary Harwood plays Margaret, a widow living in a village in the north of England who because of altruistic motives (as well as perhaps loneliness) decides to open her home to a refugee. Being a small, close-knit community, word gets around fast about this development – especially as her lodger is… a man.
Playing Adar, the visitor in question, is Syrian actor Ramzi DeHani. A medical student who has fled the Assad regime, Adar does his level best to be polite, understand cultural colloquialisms and generally try not rock the boat. So how does one translate ‘builder’s tea’?
Acting as Adar’s invisible ‘guide ‘during the play is Baraa Halabieh. Whenever Adar doesn’t 100% understand what’s been said, he asks his ‘guide’ for clarification, trying to gauge the Arabic equivalent.
Huxley-Miners, who wrote Tea and Good Intentions, also plays Margaret’s daughter Elizabeth. Initially reticent – especially as her own relationship with her mother has been strained in the past – Elizabeth forgets about not being able to get a job for the time being and helps with raising funds online. Further assistance is provided by Leah (Fiona McGee), Adar’s jovial case worker from London who pops up intermittently with news, both good and bad…
While Mary (Jan Goodman) is one of Margaret’s best friends and provides many amusing moments, there is also an apprehensiveness to the character. While coy in her meaning about certain things initially, Adar can see through Mary’s polite layers of language and picks up via her inflection and body language what she really means. She isn’t nasty or overt in her comments, but when cornered, does reveal her point of view – there are plenty of British families who live below the poverty line and in need of assistance. Why are we helping others when we can’t help ourselves?
Other ‘elephants in the room’ that the play acknowledges are the priority given for women and children refugees to be housed, and the natural apprehension their male counterparts face from all quarters.
As a female-led play, Tea and Good Intentions offers a feminine perspective that is candid and straight to the point. When Adar discloses he left someone special back ‘home’, he’s asked politely why he went on a protest, when there was a very rear risk that his loved ones would be put in danger and seperated from him. His response: someone has to speak out…
At the beginning of last week, an asylum seeker in Greater London suffered grevious bodily harm from some members of the general public, while last weekend has been full of the repercussions regarding the gas attacks in Syria. In many ways, this is a white-hot topic, especially when the likes of Donald Trump have persistently made it their policy to ban people from the non-oil producing countries in the Middle East on the grounds of ‘security’…
Plays about ’causes’ always run the danger of being didactic, but Tea and Good Intentions lets the warmth of Adar and the other characters shine through. Yes, people from different nations may have cultural diffrences, but the fundamentals about what makes us human are the same.
As the play highlights, smaller communities can be wonderful in terms of the sense of belonging wrought from everyone knowing everyone and the ‘looking after of one’s own’. However, the flipside is a group that only looks inwards has little concern for the outside world. Ironically, the early 1960s episodes of Coronation Street told the story of Ken Barlow when he was a student – one of the few to experience life ‘outside’ of Weatherfield. In a moment of prescience from 1961, Barlow declared: “You can’t go on just thinking about your own street these days. We’re living with people on the other side of the world. There’s more to worry about than Elsie Tanner and her boyfriends.”
That was 56 years ago. And while the world is very different today, in some ways it is very much the same. Are the people of 2017 ready to listen?
© Michael Davis 2017
Tea and Good Intentions ran at the Canal Cafe Theatre on 4th and 5th April 2017. It will run again later this year.