Theatre review: Scorched at The Old Vic Tunnels


The Old Vic Tunnels, London

September 3rd - October 2nd 2010

Rating: 4/5

Powerful drama Scorched arrives at The Old Vic Tunnels with a string of plaudits since its debut in France in 2003 at Incendies. Since then its been adapted into English, Spanish, Japanese and Romanian with a film to follow. It's a dark, brooding mystery of a mother of twins who leaves a cryptic quest for her twin offspring to complete in her will. It's twin narrative strands of present day and a unnamed war  in the Middle East draw on writer Wajdi Mouawad's childhood of being brought up in a Lebanese village when a civil war broke out, making for a personal element which helps drive the authenticity so essential to the play and emphasised by Dialogue Productions' impressive use of this unique creative space.

After two naked shapes appear and disappear from the stage almost before you realise they are there to subtly start your mind whirring into inquisitive mode, Scorched moves into a solicitors office where the affable Henry Bell (Patrick Driver) beckons silent twins Simon and Janine Marwan  (Richards Simons and Sirine Saba respectively) to come in for the tough task of running through their mother's will. Henry can't stop talking in an uncomfortable fashion - he was good friends with their mother Nawal and while she barely spoke to her children, it seems he knew slight more about her in later life than they could ever have hoped to find out for themselves. Simon hates his mother, made worse when in her will she requests he finds an until-now unknown brother and hand him an envelope - she's dead and still interfering with their lives, he moans. Janine meanwhile, is requested to take an envelope to their father, who they thought was dead. While they both reject the request initially, after some coaching from Henry, Janine eventually takes up on the journey to try to find their father while the story of their silent mother is revealed in a parallel narrative winding up to an emphatic reveal as that takes in the horrors of war and reflect on the dilemmas of family.

A deeply personal play.

At the heart of Scorched is a deeply personal scene of refugees gunned down on a bus witnessed by Mouawad as a child. Throughout the play's many flashbacks, he shows a land savaged by poverty and its people trapped with little say in their lives. In the present we see two children struggling to come to terms with facing their mother's past, as though they know there will be bad news to come - Simon boxes to battle his insecurities while Janine hides behind her mathematical brain which she uses as a defence mechanism. The pair are opposites, but come to form a whole by the end in a genuinely moving moment. Mouawad sets his own mathematical problem to solve in an early scene via Janine which could have been cumbersome, however it's brought into the play with a canny piece of staging  - an element of the show Dialogue Productions have worked wonders with the space provided.

The Old Vic Tunnels has again come up trumps with its dank but compelling venue giving character to Scorched. Like Ditch a few months ago, the feeling of being in a bunker and the stark brick walls make for an evocative environment that echoes the stress on the characters here and make for the perfect backdrop to warfare and militia movements: the sound of overhead trains are like the brooding gunfire in the distant past affecting the character even today. The climax brings with it a resolution that adds a whole new layer to the play when casting your mind back, and may even leave you gasping with its tough love.