Multiple Casualty Incident, Yard Theatre, stage review: ‘A tale of two acts’

Luca Kamleh Chapman and Rosa Robson in Multiple Casualty Incident. Photograph: Marc Brenner

What happens when playing nurse and patient gets out of hand?

Sami Ibrahim of Two Palestinians Go Dogging fame explores the culture of aid, grief, and international culpability in Mulitple Casulaty Incident at the Yard Theatre.

And it’s all done over meal deal sandwiches – I’ll touch on those later, don’t worry.

Rosie Elnile’s set is like a cake slice of a training room. Think of a drab liminal space that you can imagine hosts speed awareness courses.

It’s naturalistic, open-sided and therefore flexible with entrances and exits, which comes to be important.

Sarah (played by Rosa Robson) is in her late 30s and training to be an aid worker when she meets Khaled (Luca Kamleh Chapman), a grieving, vulnerable younger man doing the very same.

Girl meets boy at the workplace, they connect – it’s all very eyes-across-the-water-cooler with adorable scenes of lunch swaps.

Someone coyly munching on a hoisin duck wrap is perhaps the most realistic flirting scene I have ever seen.

Around this nexus bubbles Dan (Peter Corboy), our gay Irish comic relief who is very effective if a little underused, and Nicki (Mariah Louca) the trainer, struggling with a sick sister and managerial burdens.

The first act is punchy. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s direction is snappy, sharp, and sensational.

The everyday scenes of preparation for international crises are dissected by mini blackouts and Morse code-like bleeping thumps.

We judder forward minutes, hours and days, keeping us on our toes as we work out how much time has elapsed.

Peter Corboy as Dan is ‘very effective if a little underused’. Photograph: Marc Brenner

The clicking into position of the actors is like clockwork.

Robson and Kamleh Chapman nurture a delicious and faltering love affair. Corboy serves as antagonist and laugh-maker and Louca is our stately matriarch.

For a one-act play, this would have been more than enough – dutifully real but engaging enough to keep us entertained.

After all, is there anything better than watching the first days of love: blushing, awkward, and painfully self-aware? You know, before everything gets soppy, habitual, and what-are-we-doing-for-dinner.

Regrettably, there is a second act.

An evil twin waiting in the wings, ready to bumble in. The idea is an imaginative one. Very much like Jean Genet’s famous play Maids, in which the nurses start to lose a sense of reality.

Tout de suite, they are sucked into a make-believe world of sexual exploitation, political upheaval, and personal-versus-playacting revelations.

The use of live feed cameras, bright ring lights and large screens is a novel way to present a different reality. It’s just that this blurring of fact and fiction is asking too much of the set, cast, and story as a whole.

We reel from the metaphorical crack pipe, with everything making less and less sense. Confused and dazed, we bumble on, feeling less and less invested in the story.

Yet can we blame Ibrahim? The temptation of the surreal and allegorical proves to be too much. Instead of heightening the piece, however, it clouds the crescendo in a dense and impenetrable fog.

All involved, especially Robson, are believable, likeable and, until the end at least, understandable.

In an attempt to show the limits of the political need to help, Multiple Casualty Incident instead shows us the limits of theatre and how easy it can be to lose an audience en route.

Multiple Casualty Incident runs at the Yard Theatre until 8 June.