Hidden in the Sand**** (Trafalgar Studios 2, 4 October 2013)

Posted: October 5, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

Alexandra is a Greek Cypriot who was driven from her homeland by the 1974 Turkish invasion and now runs a small shop in London. She lives alone with only Neil Diamond’s music for company and she dreams of returning to her home city of Famagusta, the Greek name for which is Ammochostos, meaning “hidden in the sand”. But the city is now part of Turkish Northern Cyprus, so she can only cling to memories of her lost life, unable to move forward until, one day, Jonathan, an English academic, walks into her shop and they fall in love. James Philips’ tender and passionate new play is a middle-age romance taking place against the backdrop of 20th Century European conflicts. The play is set in 1999 and Alexandra’s niece (Daphne Alexander) is a photo journalist working in Kosovo; she has seen at first hand the terrible consequences of war and displacement, but she is a generation removed from the Cyprus invasion and she does not even speak Greek. Alexandra’s estranged sister (Yolanda Vazquez) has re-married and cut her ties with her home country. Just Alexandra herself remains stuck in a time warp, still believing that her former lover, who disappeared on the day of the Turkish invasion, will return; she cries “to give up hope is to betray”. Can Jonathan help her to become reconciled with the past and reclaim her so that she can live and love again? As Jonathan, Scott Handy is earnest and sincere, even if his character is slightly under-written. However, it is a luminous performance by Sally Dexter as Alexandra that elevates this production to a higher level. She simply lives the part, conveying emotional turmoil, confusion and vulnerability as her character confronts her demons. Quite literally, she moves us to tears at several points during the course of this play and few better performances are likely to be seen on the London stage this year. The story begins in London and ends in Cyprus, but Timothy Bird’s predominantly white set design is more Mediterranean than British and back projections of faces from the past effectively evoke sadness for worlds now lost. This studio space is so small and the drama, particularly in the second act, is so intense and intimate that we feel like intruders who have no right to be there. Phillips’ writing is truthful and believable, always holding our interest and, whilst political themes are always present, he never allows them to overshadow the human drama. His writing and direction rightly focus primarily on Alexandra. She and the actor who plays her tower above everything else.

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