Osama the Hero – Review

A dark but interesting play filled with strong performances.

ADC culture Dennis Kelly Osama the Hero Theatre

Where do I begin with Osama the Hero?

 It is, in truth, a challenging play to review, in turns brilliant and frustrating, gripping and dull, full of great performances and yet lacking cohesion.

Dennis Kelley’s bleak urban fable, brought to the ADC for the first time, tells the story of Gary, a schoolboy, whose school project glorifying Osama Bin Laden gets him noticed by the thugs with whom he shares an estate, putting him in real danger.

It’s a difficult watch – nearly every character is reprehensible and utterly amoral, from an accused paedophile in denial, to a violent criminal, to an office worker with bloodlust. The show is a moral quagmire, with characters justifying, and even glorifying horrific acts of violence, including some which are brutally carried out on stage.

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However, the strength of the script lies in the fact that the characters are all humanised, despite their flaws- their violence is inward as well as outward, and you watch them visibly disintegrate when confronted with the utter futility of their lives.

Director Silas Lee has made a brave decision bringing Osama the Hero to Cambridge, and he gets a lot right. Perhaps his main triumph is the casting, not least the bold decision to cast himself as Gary, the character who carries most of the emotional weight of the show. Often when directors cast themselves it feels egotistical and self-serving, but here he genuinely seems like the right person for the role. The audience felt genuine pity for his character.

The rest of the cast were also, on the whole, good: Jake Thompson in particular deserves credit for his performance as the psychotic Francis. He is a natural performer, and I’d love to see him on the ADC stage more in the future. On the other hand, Katurah Morrish hit a few bum notes as the emotionally dysfunctional Louise, but I suspect this was a scripting, rather than acting problem.

That said, there were many flaws in the production. The staging was clunky and static throughout- characters rarely moved around the stage, and when they did it felt forced and unnatural. This wasn’t helped by some bizarre technical choices, including an ineffective strobe and an unnecessary dropbox.

However, worst of all were the ridiculously long blackouts during scene changes. In a late show with practically no set, there is no justification at all for making an audience wait for nearly a minute, staring at a pitch black stage, waiting for something to happen.

Further, I’m not sure I particularly liked the script. It is challenging, yes, and raises some interesting moral questions, but is also overlong, unnecessarily confusing and disconnected. Though it has a very strong second act, the opening and closing sections are narratively confused and at times, even dull.

However, this shouldn’t put you off from seeing the play. Yes, it has some integral flaws, but this is interesting, unique theatre, of the type that you rarely see outside of, for example, the Edinburgh fringe. It was also criminally under-attended on the opening night, which was a shame- it definitely deserves bigger audiences.

If you can see past the integral problems, Osama the Hero will provide an interesting and thought-provoking night at the theatre.

61%- a low 2:1