Review by Susy Brett
The World Premiere of Stephanie Martin’s new play Alkaline is at the Park Theatre’s Park90.
Alkaline is a 75-minute play depicting a very uncomfortable drinks party. Sophie (EJ Martin) and Sarah (Claire Cartwright) have been friends their whole lives, and Sarah is due to be a bridesmaid at Sophie’s upcoming wedding to Nick (Alan Mahon). When Sophie holds a party to catch up with new Islam convert Sarah and her new fiancé Ali (Nitin Kundra), things begin to go pear-shaped, as anxiety, old wounds and ingrained prejudices come to the light.
A buzzing new play filled with discussion of Islam and prejudice, Alkaline is like the most awkward dinner party of your life, filled with passive aggression. The tension ripples through the air in the intimate setting of Park Theatre’s 90-seater space, which is set up to perfectly depict the quintessential middle-class millennial home. Sophie’s blatant insensitivity and Ali’s quiet politics are powerful, though far from a stress-free night at the theatre. That’s not to say Alkaline isn’t also hilarious, regularly provoking laughter from its audience. The balance of humour and discomfort is excellent.
This performance is really all about EJ Martin, who puts her heart and soul into crafting Sophie – an anxious, anal, passive aggressive wreck of a woman who is struggling to deal with the pressure of the evening. Martin does a wonderful job of portraying Sophie’s clear insecurity and agitation, even while she says nothing, and it steals the show.
Claire Cartwright and Nitin Kundra are charming as the newly engaged (and less troubled) Sarah and Ali. Their relationship feels refreshingly genuine, giving an audience something to root for. While Mahon’s acting is great, there wasn’t much to the Nick character beyond a drug problem that seemed an unnecessary addition to infuriate Sophie, who has plenty enough to stress over. Reena Lalbihari makes a late entrance as Ali’s wife Aleesha, and her presence is yet another painful reminder that life is difficult and complicated.
The ending seems to come from nowhere, and I’m not really sure by the end what Alkaline was trying to convey. There are a lot of thoughts on Islam, but it all feels like things we’ve heard before. We know Sophie is wrong – even she does. We know she is an unhappy woman, in an unhappy relationship. We know Ali’s life is complicated, and Aleesha is hurting, but there seems to be something real there with Sarah. Instead of provoking thought, Alkaline mostly tries to be either funny or shocking.
That said, Alkaline is a thoroughly engaging play on a very relevant topic. This show feels fresh, though I wish its intention were clearer. Alkaline does a great job of broadening the landscape for drama.