A BEAUTIFUL ENDING
The Door, Birmingham REP, Wednesday 27th January, 2016
Writer-performer Mohamed El Khatib brings his one-man show dealing with loss and grief to Birmingham. It’s in French – English surtitles are projected on the back wall and on a TV screen – as he reads from his notebook, tells anecdotes, or plays recorded conversations with his late mother. What it amounts to is a documentary-style piece that tells a true story – his mother’s death from liver cancer.
Put like that it sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it?
The experience is certainly not grim at all.
It’s raw, at times; it’s honest and frank. It’s also, perhaps unexpectedly, very funny. Perhaps it helps that, to us, it’s in a foreign language; we British like to be at a bit of a remove from this kind of thing. Reading the subtitles and giving my A Level in French a bit of a workout, has me hanging on every word. I also keep an eye on the performer – El Khatib is gently charismatic. A likeable chap, he is direct and deadpan. The family he tells us about may be French, and Muslim, but we relate to the humanity we have in common. Their foibles are our foibles; the gallows humour universal. The title, it turns out, is ironic.
It’s a glimpse into another way of life – a deeply personal piece – but it’s also a reflection on things we all share. It’s bittersweet, poignant and funny. The conflict with the silent, invisible antagonist brings tragedy, the funeral customs and rituals bring black humour. El Khatib’s matter-of-fact, conversational delivery deals with difficult moments in an absence of sentimentality, making the impact all the more powerful.