Review by: Freya Parr
Photo by: Mustafa Al Mahdi
Once We Were Kings, brought to us by WA theatre group Third Culture Kids, explores what is like to be young, queer, Muslim, and the trials and tribulations one must face in such a situation. It aims to give a voice to the disenfranchised among our society, and is an intensely rich performance with some really great individual actors.
The play is written by Pakistani playwright Dure Reykhan-Yousafzai, and was lyrically beautiful, giving a mix of personal accounts and imagined encounters. However I felt as though the structure could be dealt with in a different way. It simply moved from monologue to monologue, and it could have done with being slightly more flexible, perhaps with more interaction between the characters. It also could have been aided by slightly more light and shade, because it was all so dark and intensely gloomy that occasionally the power was lost through a lack of contrast.
The dim, low lighting throughout the performance set a serene atmosphere that sucked the audience in from the offset. The lighting drastically changed from scene to scene, reflecting the monologue being spoken, which was at times effective, but at times felt a little forced. The blank set and understated use of props was effective, and meant that the entirety of our focus was on the actors’ words, which is where the real power of this piece lay. The use of soundscapes and video played on the canvases held up by two of the characters was a really effective opening to the performance, particularly as the characters were hidden from view.
The actors all did a tremendous job in portraying the struggles of the characters, in a very honest and open way. The struggles to show one’s identity was portrayed well, but I thought the fact that both characters were homosexual slightly overkilled the message, and it didn’t seem as real. Regardless of this, it was all extremely well acted, and we were convinced by the action onstage throughout.
The show is accompanied by an art exhibition displaying pieces from artists from the Middle East who have been censored by their countries, a really great way to finish a poignant piece.
Ultimately, I found Once We Were Kings to be a really well done interpretation of the conflict and interplay between religion and sexuality. A word of warning though, if you do go, mentally prepare yourself – it’s by no means a night of light-hearted fun. I went in the wrong mindset, and a lot of the power was unfortunately lost on me. However, the writing is beautifully lyrical, and generally the themes it portrays are extremely powerful and worthy of exploration.
Visit the Blue Room Theatre website for session times and more information.