In Review

The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes – reviews of Iraqi play

Black comedy about an Iraqi refugee trying to escape his past is 'witty, topical and devastating'

What you need to know

Rashid Razaq's black comedy, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, has opened at the Arcola Theatre, London. The play is adapted from a short story by the exiled Iraqi film-maker and writer Hassan Blasim.

Iraqi refugee Salim has fled persecution for a new life and new identity in Britain. As Carlos Fuentes he marries a wealthy older woman and studies for his citizenship test, but his nightmarish past proves harder to escape than he imagined.

Tricycle Theatre's former head Nicolas Kent directs a cast starring Nabil Elouahabi (Top Boy). Runs until 16 August.

What the critics like

This is a "blackly witty, tonally false-footing and cumulatively devastating play", says Paul Taylor in The Independent. It's expertly directed, rawly topical and beautifully played by Nabil Elouahabi, with some very good jokes at the expense of religious sectarianism, false ideas of Britishness and bureaucracy.

Razaq's play "gives us an insight into the daily devastation wrought by sectarian conflict in post-Saddam Iraq" via one man's story of flight and struggle, says Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard. With crisp, witty writing this gripping play tantalises us with the pieces of a time-hopping puzzle.

It jumps non-chronologically between 2006 and 2011 offering an "intensely sympathetic" portrait of an Iraqi Everyman, says Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times. This deeply sensitive piece of work eventually makes clear that Carlos inhabits two moments at once as his past tries to reclaim him. 

What they don't like

The play touches on big issues and aims for the magic realism of the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, referenced in the title, but its individual scenes are "infinitely stronger than the whole", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. The tone is constantly shifting, but the piece is held together by Nicolas Kent's adroit production.

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