The Initiate charts the journey of a Somali taxi driver living a London, and his attempts to negotiate with Somali pirates who have kidnapped a British couple. Motivated by a desire to redeem the culture of his country of origin – demonised by sensational media accounts of pirate activities – he persuades members of the community, together with the victims’ family, to club together and pay the ransom. Over the course of the play his faith in his own ability to reform prejudices is gradually eroded – and as the opportunity arises to collaborate with the pirates by raising the negotiated sum and then taking a cut for himself, he takes it.
There is a striking scene at the heart of this play in which the unnamed protagonist first encounters the captured couple, having negotiated for their release. Their innate distrust of him confirms a suspicion that has already been planted by one of the captors – namely that as a Somali the protagonist is undervalued by the very people he is seeking to help. This scene perfectly captures the central dilemma of the play – namely, the difficulty of maintaining the optimism needed to combat racial stereotyping within a culture in which prejudices are so seemingly intransigent. As such, The Initiate can be read as a pertinent parable about how despair at endemic discriminatory attitudes can transform even the most altruistic into self-serving cynics.
George Perrin’s production for Paines Plough takes place in the company’s touring tent: a 160-capacity in-the-round space currently situated between Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery. There is no set, and movement is kept to a bare minimum – the focus being the three performances offered by Sian Reese-Williams, Abdul Salis and Sidney Cole. The play itself has very little that is extraneous, and the actors honour this – giving uncomplicated performances with very discrete character definition and a focus on shifting relationship dynamics within each scene.
The Initiate is an intelligent and important play – expertly realised in this pared down and concentrated production.