Prague Fringe 2019
As explained in a written statement on the audience’s seats, the originally planned Crime Story play that focused on Brexit had, much like its subject matter, been postponed. In its place is The Nights, a rehearsed reading of a new Naylor show that touches on the atrocities of the Iraq War, the beheading of journalist James Foley, and the controversy over whether allegedly radicalized British citizen Shamima Begum should be allowed to return from Syria.
Henry Naylor’s plays are often powerfully political, relying on their topical timing to add impact. This year’s Fringe offering was inspired by recent UK headlines and attitudes towards Shamima Begum. The 15-year-old British girl left England in 2015 along with two other female classmates to go to Syria and become a “jihadi bride”, a term for women who sympathize with and pledge themselves to the Islamic State. In March of 2019, Begum was discovered in a Syrian refugee camp asking to return to Britain. The British Home Secretary, along with numerous headlines and citizens, have instead recommended that she be stripped of her citizenship.
This brief backstory helps to set up the opening scene. The editor of a British tabloid is berating a young female journalist, Carter, and her colleagues for allowing another paper to break Begum’s story. Looking for an angle and a coveted byline, Carter decides to chase up a comment on Begum from two British soldiers charged with war crimes in Iraq. The resulting conversations and truths that she discovers are not exactly what she expected.
The two actors, Caitlin Thorburn as Carter and Naylor as one of the soldiers, give confident, gripping performances, even while on-book in this rehearsed reading with minimal props or costuming. Naylor’s previous work around Middle Eastern conflicts and identities, such as 2017’s Angel and 2016’s Echoes, have won him international acclaim and awards. This latest work-in-progress may be informed by further developments in Begum’s case (still being litigated at the time of performance). There are moments that might benefit from more nuance or re-examining the timing of some character arcs, but Naylor’s talent for writing, strong point of view, and powerful delivery by both actors still tell an incredibly compelling story, finished or not.