Theatre master Nick Kent bringing magic to Arcola’s latest black comedy
- Credit: Tristram Kenton
He may have stood down from a theatre position he held for 28 years but that’s not going to stop a master like Nick Kent. Next on the former Tricycle Theatre artistic director’s political agenda is black comedy The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes by Rashid Razaq, running at the Arcola Theatre until 16 August.
The play, adapted from a short story by Hassim Blasim, starts in a hotel room, with Salim, an Iraqi refugee, handcuffed to a bed, enthusiastically preparing for the British Citizenship Tests, with help from his wife, an older, wealthy English woman.
However he has taken on a Mexican identity after fleeing persecution in Baghdad, and it’s not long before the nightmare of his past catches up with him.
“The timing of it is just extraordinary as it’s been two years in the making. It seems to have coincided extraordinarily with politics now,” says Kent, who lives in St John’s Wood.
“It’s very funny and moving, and has a lot to say politically. It’s about religious intolerance in Iraq but it also deals with the whole thing about being British, about what it means to be British.”
With immigration heating up politically ahead of next year’s elections, it is a timely look at an Iraqi refugee trying to get a leave to remain here while internal divisions in Iraq itself are escalating.
“My father got political asylum in the country when he came as a Jew from Germany during the rise of Hitler, so I think it’s enormously important that we welcome immigrants to the country,” he adds.
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“We’re all human beings and we should be able to move around the globe in an unrestricted way. With the civil war going on in Syria at the moment, I think we’ve taken less than 100 Syrian refugees which is appalling when they (the Government) agreed to take in 600, which itself is a drop in the ocean.”
It was under Kent’s stewardship at the Tricyle Theatre that plays based on verbatim reconstructions of public enquiries known as ‘tribunal plays’ were introduced.
The first in 1994, Half the Picture by Richard Norton-Taylor and John McGrath, was a dramatisation of the Scott Inquiry about the sale of Arms to Iraq.
“Since 1993 I’ve done six plays which in some way have referenced Iraq. It’s become such a big issue; it’s dominated our politics for the last 25 years. People have lived through a period where Iraq was almost constantly in the news which is extraordinary when you think it’s a very small country.”
He chose to stand down as Artistic Director over government cuts, which he says has left the industry “in a lot of mess” with young actors and writers unable to find work as theatres are forced to downsize.
“I wish the arts would become more centre stage in the politics of this country so political parties realise what a value the arts gives to this country.
“Art theatre is possibly the greatest in the world and the tourism in London I gather this year has broken all records.
“The amount theatre and the creative industries in general give to the economy is absolutely enormous compared to the drop in the ocean given in government subsidy.”
Since leaving he has worked on a number of projects and hopes to have a play about drones out next year.
“I’m loving working at the Arcola and doing something that politically has something to say and it’s an important play,” he says. “It’s moving and funny and audiences will have a great time watching.”
The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes runs until 16 August. £18 Concessions available. Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin St, E8 3DL Box Office: 020 7503 1646