The Judgement of Hakim returned to the Unity last week after premiering earlier in the year, following on from development at the Lantern as part of the Writing on the Wall festival.
Testing Testing Productions brings together some established city talent for this tense, immersive work. Written by Andrew Sherlock, who has already had a good year seeing his Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles transfer to the West End, and directed by Spike Theatre’s Mark Smith, the play is a portrait of a mysterious interrogator performed by Nick Birkinshaw (“has done nothing of significance before playing Hakim”, the biog modestly reads).
‘Nobody will be harmed during this event’ is the disclaimer on the programme sheet – the first of many attempts to unsettle, discombobulate and generally provoke the audience. Hakim is assured, experienced, and ready to reveal to the audience the tricks of his trade, although we can’t really be sure why until the very end. His almost Orwellian messing with minds is a breed apart from the next level of investigation – physical torture, alluded to off-stage – or so he likes to think. He raises uncomfortable questions about punishment and surveillance, red flags to give the audience food for thought.
During his sophisticated monologue – flanked by menacing assistants who add to the mystery of the set up – Birkinshaw’s performance is confident and intriguing. But the script isn’t always especially subtle, sometimes repetitive and the action is a bit drawn out at times (especially during a confusing interval break that wasn’t scheduled upon entry to the theatre), and the success of the immersive elements of the show depends on a game audience.