Danusia Samal's Out Of Sorts plays at Theatre503 as the 2018 International Playwriting Award winner. Daniel Perks reviews:

There’s a tangible unease to the Out Of Sorts atmosphere. Despite Rebecca Wood’s kitchen set presenting a safe space – doubling up as both childhood home and current abode – Tanuja Amarasuriya’s direction of fast-paced, never-ending, intentionally crossing over scenes indicates something sinister looming just out of reach. Danusia Samal’s play presents a happy façade but conceals a powerful void at its core.

It’s purposefully constructed that way, and the effect is affecting. As the central character Zara (Nalân Burgess) tries to escape one world – the world of her Arabic heritage – and fit into another – the world of the middle class, white professional – she alienates herself from both. She is caught between mutually exclusive versions of reality, not feeling herself in either. With her mother (Oznur Cifci) and father (Nayef Rashed) playing the nagging parents with the best of intentions, and her best friend Alice (Emma Denly) as the unintentional hypocrite with a privileged upbringing, it’s easy to sympathise with Zara’s position.

And then, Samal’s award-winning script quickly spins everything around. Because it is Zara who self-sabotages, trying to be everything for everyone and ignoring the signs of her own body turning in on itself. Burgess’ performance in this role is a rollercoaster, a slow spiralling out of control that can only be so well achieved by a masterful understanding of her craft. Burgess moves fluidly through her character’s complex journey of denial and self-doubt with a thin veneer of confidence and jollity, as effortless as the Out Of Sorts scenes that flow from one micro battle to the next. And as the never-ending mountain of self-inflicted pressure builds up, Burgess visibly buckles under the strain. Her final collapse is a spellbinding watch.

This layered, nuanced piece of writing is worthy of the 2018 Theatre503 International Playwriting Award. It’s brought to life through Amarasuriya’s vision, who maintains a breakneck pace typical of the familiar and familial environment – conversations interrupted, things unsaid because of shared understandings, rivalries and quarrels all too recognisable in the parent-daughter, sibling or squabbling best friend dynamic. And with a cast completed by Claudius Peters – the measured boyfriend Anthony – and Myriam Acharki – the scene-stealing younger sister Layla – Out Of Sorts is an ensemble effort of though-provoking, emotionally wrenching theatre.

★★★★☆

Out Of Sorts plays at Theatre503 until 2 November 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the venue website.