The Sinners is the biggest headline draw of the season at the new off-beat theatre in West London – the Playground Theatre. Directed by none other than Brian Cox and starring his spouse Nicole Ansari (Layla), the play follows the final hours of an English language professor in an unnamed Middle Eastern country who will be stoned to death after having an adulterous affair. Buried in a mound of sand, Layla shares her last moments with her lover and student, Nur (Adam Sina) who is the one tasked with fetching the stones for Layla’s execution.
Ansari delivers a powerful and transformative performance as she holds her lover and the audience in the palm of her hand.
The intimate setting of the theatre makes viewers feel almost as if we are the proverbial fly on the wall – the execution wall, decorated with the bullet holes from past murders. For the most part, Layla sits buried up to her shoulders in the sand so her voice and facial expressions lead the viewer through the rollercoaster of emotions. Ansari delivers a powerful and transformative performance as she holds her lover and the audience in the palm of her hand.
The play is unsettling, full of dark humour, sex jokes, philosophical and religious debates. In his play, Joshua Sobol treads carefully as he presents to the public some food for thought. The ugly truth is that stoning is still legal in some countries of Asia and Middle East – an uncomfortable truth that we don’t want to speak about and tend to brush under the carpet.
Sinners: Nicole Ansari (Layla), Adam Sina (Nur)
With a cast consisting only of two people and the set design comprising only of sand, stones and a wheelbarrow, a lot of attention had was paid to the costume design, music, lighting – all the small elements that normally escape our attention.
“There are so many countries where women are still being stoned for what they call adultery. Which means they are stoning women for daring to love.”
In the middle of a desert on the day of his lovers’ execution Nur (Adam Sina) wears a white ironed shirt and a two-piece suit. The choice of the costume is not accidental and is set to convey the importance of the occasion. As the costume designer, Laya Torkaman, explained to us after the play, “in Middle Eastern countries the mentality is such that for an important day, you wear your best suit – no matter how uncomfortable or hot.”
The lighting also tells a story of its own. The ever so subtle change in the lighting throughout the play visibly ages Layla bringing into the act the concept of time. You almost start to mourn Layla’s youth and vigour long before she is gone. Brian Cox confirmed the impression: “I wanted the change of light be so subtle throughout the play so to imply the passing of time. But we don’t know how long she’s been there, waiting for her execution – it might be hours or it might be days.”
“My wife made me a feminist”
– Brian Cox
Sinners: Nicole Ansari (Layla), Adam Sina (Nur)
Ikon London Magazine attended the press night and spoke to the cast and crew who made this play happen.
Speaking to our Editor in Chief, Tamara Orlova Alvarez, about his choice for a directing debut, Brian attested, “Nicole [Ansari] read the script of this play first and I saw how much she was moved by it – she was almost in tears. Seeing her reaction, I decided to direct it.” He continued, “My wife made me a feminist, she made me think ‘how can it be right that stoning of women is still legal in our day and age.’ For example, only a few weeks ago, yet another woman was stoned to death in Afghanistan. Her gruesome stoning was recorded and shared online and we keep silent about it.” The set of the Sinners replicates the carnage in question – a young woman cloaked in black fabric lying in a dug-out hole.
Joshua Sobol Wrote Sinners as a Protest
The playwright Joshua Sobol feels not least passionate about the topic: “There are so many countries where women are still being stoned for what they call adultery. Which means they are stoning women for daring to love.” He continues, “When I wrote it, I wanted to address the western audience and let people understand that in our society which considers itself to be a very liberal society, women are still considered sometimes as second rate human beings. My protest was the protest against such treatment.”
The playwright, passionate about the topic, went on: “On the 4th of February, a woman was stoned to death by Taliban fighters and the execution was televised. I was shocked by the lack of response from Western countries. We accept it as if it’s natural that women should be subject to such treatment. The honour killings fall under the same category.
“We should have some real penalties or sanctions imposed on those countries.”
Such treatment of women is, of course, nothing new. The play was written back in 2008 and first directed by Joshua in 2011 in Israel. “I was shocked by an event that took place in Somalia where three Taliban militants raped a young girl aged thirteen. And when she reported it to the police, she was stoned to death for adultery. We should have some real penalties or sanctions imposed on those countries.” Indeed, it’s hard to believe that in post-MeToo and Time’s Up era, we feel it’s okay to mistreat women just because ‘it’s cultural’.
And yet, Joshua is by his own admission not a feminist: “I’m not sure if I’m a feminist but as a playwright, it’s very important for me to cross borders so I have to write from both angles. I don’t think that theatre is about comfort but about crossing the border to the other side, to the topics that are considered to be a taboo.”
The play is on until March the 14th and, according to the director, if it is received well and there is a demand, there might be a future for the Sinners on the West End stage.