I’ve never been in Circa Theatre’s Circa Two stage, but Isadora Lao’s design creates a memorable first experience. From what I can see, the stage has been cut in half by a row of draped sheer fabric. I’ve seen draped sheets in theatre before, but this is something else; the fabric is draped in such a way it creates an intimate vignette in the middle of the stage. Each strip of cloth is rich and warm, excellently complimented by Marcus McShane’s lighting design. The luxurious drapes are met with a simplistic addition of a rug and side table - this feels like the smart choice, any more clutter would take away from the beautiful backdrop and Zehra’s detailed storytelling. It also smells incredible, I am unsure where the smell is coming from but this adds to the charm. The stage feels a world away from the Wellington wind that swept me into the gutter just minutes before– it’s the ideal environment for storytelling and as an often-anxious audience member– I notably sink further into my seat, safe and calm.
Zehra effortlessly matches the energy of the set and lighting design as she nonchalantly pays heed to the show’s title: tonight, we, the audience will learn how she ended up having tea with terrorists. The show’s structure isn’t linear and this is a credit to Zehra and Martin. Each tale organically blends into another, despite no obvious connection in time or place. Zehra’s portrayal of her family and friends is the best of her comedy– her impressions bring life to the script and to the world her family inhabits. They also aid the pace of the show, as Zehra cuts to each friend or family member we see the tale as if it is playing out in real-time. The skilled sound design composed by Mike Mckeon with Manda Safavi, recorded by Troy Kelly, and operated by Bekky Boyce, provides subtle aid to the world-building. Sometimes I feel there is too large a gap between each cue, making them a little jarring, but the levels are on point.
No one story falls short of another, each is equally entertaining or humorous– this is evident from the constant laughter from the full opening night audience. I want to stress Zehra’s ability to project confidence in a way that feels like the antithesis of self-deprecating comedy. Not to discredit self-deprecating humour (which always has a time and a place) but it is refreshing to see someone tell their story without asking for the audience’s validation. The audience is in no way excluded from the conversation, but Zehra’s conviction is completely her own. I note that in one story about a bullet-hole-riddled swimming pool, once used by the Taliban for executions, Zehra shares a moment of vulnerability with us, her voice falters slightly and my own breath catches. I would ask the show's collaborators if these moments should be allowed more room? I don’t know the answer to this, but the comedy is certainly strong enough to allow more of these moments (if that is the truth of them).
The only piece of feedback I have, and I’m really being pedantic at this point, is a quibble with Zehra acknowledging the show’s end by pre-empting the final story and the show’s title - Tea with Terrorists. This has already been done successfully at the top of the show, and it doesn’t follow the organic weaving of the other stories.
At the show’s end, I feel as if we are friends, not close friends (we’ve only just met!) - but in the length of one dinner party, I have been enraptured by their presence, and I am sold. Tea with Terrorists is a magnificent display of practiced skill from all involved, it’s on at Circa Theatre from now until the 27th of August. Go see it before tickets sell out!