Written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, Love, Bombs And Apples is a one-man play delivered by Asif Khan that tells four distinct stories over its ninety minutes as it follows men living in Palestine, London, Bradford and New York.
Covering political issues around the conflict of Gaza and many other topics, all with a healthy layer of comedy, Love, Bombs And Apples was a must-see, well-written and hilarious piece of theatre with a range of fully fleshed-out characters that seemed to live far beyond the twenty-or-so minutes we were with them, thanks to monologue text from Abdulrazzak and a series of high-energy and committed character portrayals by Khan, bringing out some big issues and a variety of Muslim voices to the stage alongside other great moments.
Though a lot of the subject matter could be classed as difficult or political or emotive – the play tackled the holocaust, the bombing of Gaza and the treatment of people falsely accused of terrorism – it was wrapped up in great characters, funny stories and some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners that helped bring these topics to the audience’s consciousness in a much more accessible and realistic way.
The commitment of actor Asif Khan to the piece cannot be understated. Not leaving the stage between the four portrayals, all he needed was a quick change of clothes, a slicking back of the hair, or spectacles, and a shift in vocal style and pace to convince me that each character shown on stage was a different person. Throw in occasional sections where he took on the style of other characters and it was amazing to watch, in particular when he played the star of the second piece, Level 42, a man who tries to write the perfect post 9-11 novel but sees his manuscript confused by the police as a terror manual.
This section was the perfect balance of character, dialogue and some great one liners, Khan’s slow and precise delivery of the lines really bringing the character to life and his occasional breaking of the fourth wall and getting the audience to interact to one particular phrase working well, not the first and last time in the play those elsewhere in the room were invited to get involved. If I could pick one character that I’d love to see more of it would be the author of Level 42, both the mannerisms and look of the character perfectly detailed with his view point of his detention well skewed in an unexpected direction, alongside a script that was choc-full of solid one-liners, memorable phrases and well-placed references.
The opening piece Love In The Time Of Barriers was a speedy, high-energy, section jumping from a party to a car to the security wall that really showcased Khan’s comedy timing and portrayal of characters, whilst the third The Apple cleverly sent up a section of youth culture and language whilst offering sobering thoughts on how the tactics of commercialisation and radicalisation are not always that different, painting quite a shades-of-grey character in what could have been a black or white performance, with a pleasing juxtaposition between the desires and ideas of a young man. With references here to Bradford’s relatively new Westfield shopping centre, particularly fun picking up these nods when seeing the production in the same city, this and the fourth piece had some well-placed time-setters, placing them in the modern day through use of music from and references to Netflix shows.
That’s not to say the piece doesn’t have its darker or poignant moments, particularly in the fourth and final piece Landing Strip which managed to say a lot with very few words and some limited props, and proved to be much more reflective and heartfelt than the titular reference and opening moments would suggest, and it was only a shame that this final story seemed to end rather abruptly, but on reflection I’m not sure if that was a sudden end or whether I was just enjoying experiencing the character’s lives and wanted more.
To support the writing and performance the well-chosen props helped convince about different locations whilst the lighting and sound was flawless in bringing so many different places, countries and scenarios to life – never have three chairs represented so many things. The soundtrack was unobtrusive but helped both bridge the gaps between monologues and bring certain locations to life, whilst also offering interesting observations at key points during the words. It’s a credit to the director and the various designers for bringing these particular worlds to life in such simple, but effective, ways.
There was much love for the play from the audience, with many laughs in the right places, and even when the piece got more political and the monologues a little edgier, particularly in the third part, the audience were on board and taking it in.
Love, Bombs And Apples felt like a successful coming together of a writer able to capture the big issues but through the eyes of these ordinary people, and an actor able to bring to life such great characters in a way that it felt like we’d known them far longer than the twenty minutes that we lived with them.
The attempts to fulfil desires, whether of sex, being an author, buying an iPhone, or keeping the peace between family members, all sat well with bigger, more political issues and both the everyday and the bigger picture got enough stage time for both to hit home. Those all four pieces felt distinctly different and not really inter-connecting, several narratives including that of Palestine were common themes, helping keep things tied together.
Ending on the line ‘This is going to be ugly..’ you wonder if that’s a comment on the personal conflict of the main characters in the final piece or a reflection on humanity overall. Either way the ninety minutes of the piece flew by and by the end I could easily have watched Khan inhabit those four characters for a little bit longer.