Arcola Theatre, London E8
Opened 30 July, 2009

While I was chatting in the bar before the performance, a guy came round selling single roses. I dismissed him, as one does, without even really looking at him. Consequently, it was only around a quarter of the way into Christopher Domig’s 70-minute monologue performance that I realised he, in the persona of protagonist Sad, had been the rose-seller. It’s a brilliant way to bring home to us one of the many the implicit indictments contained in Robert Schneider’s play.
In the most-produced German-language solo play of the 1990s, only now receiving its London première, Sad is an illegal immigrant from Basra who earns a crust in his current home (in effect, the city where the play is being performed on any given occasion) selling those roses. His occasional remarks about the home and loves he left behind are outweighed by his musings on the advantages of life here, and… and this is where it gets knotty… the damage caused to this way of life by immigrants. This is not a case of over-assimilation, of one new arrival decrying the next wave. Sad repeatedly apologises for his appearance, his habits, even for adding his own volume of effluvia to the sewage system: “Our urine is more pungent,” he says. But he also says that, like all Arabs, “I lie. It’s an innate thing with me.” Is Sad short for Saddam? He claims so at one point, then denies it, but his conduct also belies his repeated assertion that “My name is Sad, but I am not sad.”
Domig plays it so straight that one cannot tell to what extent Sad is at one with Schneider in deliberately guying the crassest kind of bigotry, or conversely how far he has been genuinely ground down by his host populace’s hostility so that this self-loathing has become genuine, and so intense that he even accepts responsibility for the broken glass pushed into his face. What is clear is that hearing this vitriol as self-accusation reminds us forcefully how horrific it is in anyone’s mouth. Schneider’s play was written after the first Gulf War, and for an Austria in which Jörg Haider’s People’s Party was playing the race card strongly; it is no less applicable 16 years on in a country which as just sent two British National Party members to the European Parliament, with a third serving in the London Assembly.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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