Edinburgh festival 2014 review: The Initiate – from the London streets to the Somali seas

Summerhall @ Roundabout, Edinburgh
A thought-provoking play about a Somali taxi driver who leaves London to secure the release of a British couple from pirates explores the gap between who we are and how we appear

Dalmar was born in Somalia but has lived in London for 20 years. His two teenage sons were born here. It's so much his city that when he's driving his minicab he likes to take passengers on the scenic route, sometimes much to their annoyance and the affable Dalmar's incomprehension. But for Dalmar, London is home, much more than the country and family he left behind. He still sends money back to Somalia, but his roots are now very much in England. He belongs. Or does he?

When a British couple are kidnapped by Somali pirates, and one of his sons is bullied at school for looking like a young pirate seen in a newspaper picture, Dalmar decides he must act. He returns to Somalia to try to secure the release of the couple, but in the process discovers that altruism and self-interest can align and that the ties that bind to place and the past can pull you back.

This is a wonderfully slippery and always intelligent play from Alexandra Wood, and it gets a snappy production from George Perrin, who casts it in a way that cleverly plays up the gap between resemblances and reality.

Beautifully performed by Andrew French, Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis, the play offers much to enjoy in its thriller-like structure, although it sometimes feels a little too neatly constructed. There are plenty of ideas on display, but sometimes too little heart to really make us care about anyone on stage. Nevertheless it's thoughtful stuff, and in Dalmar's encounters the motivations are picked over with a forensic eye, as it becomes increasingly clear that the gap between who we are, how we present ourselves and how we appear can be vast.

• Until 23 August. Box office: 0131 226 0000. Venue: Summerhall @ Roundabout.

Contributor

Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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