City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Bashir Lazhar Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 10 August 2011

Bashir Lazhar.jpg
Show details
Wishbone Theatre
Running time: 
Evelyne de la Chenelière (writer), Morwyn Brebner (translator) Kim McLeod (dramaturgy) Nadir Bellahmer (music), Cory Sincennes and Jennifer Goodman (production design)
Michael Peng, Kim McLeod

This play by Montreal writer Evelyne de la Chenelière tells the story of Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant to Canada who manages to get a substitute teacher’s post following the suicide of the ironically named female teacher, Mme La Chance. Bashir is steeped in education and in his own very French education, subtly reflecting French colonialism in the play, with his teaching of Balzac and Fontainebleau.  He is shown as the personification of teaching, symbolically using his very suit and any available surface as a blackboard throughout.

The play opens on the stage made like a stretched out blackboard, with Moroccan style music in the background.  The initial narrative is in French, but at a level that is likely understood and if not is not of great significance as the lessons of the play are universal. 

He and the young actress on stage move gracefully together at the start, but while she flits pleasantly through each scene like a butterfly with text on her dress, I am not sure if she is the spirit of education or that of the demised teacher as she sports a blue scarf that hanged La Chance.  She would seem to be significant or the writer would not have her as part of the text, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the play could have worked equally well as a one man show.  The piece plays with time, dipping back and forth throughout yet never losing the place.

We see Bashir practise his introduction to his new class, going through versions from formal to friendly indicating his own lack of confidence in a new country with strange mores. He has a steep learning curve as he adjusts to class manners, or lack of them. This is effectively and sympathetically portrayed by Michael Peng as the kindly and idealistic dominie.  He teaches a lonely pupil the tricks of fitting in ie to stick with the popular.  Sadly Bashir doesn’t learn his own lesson as his ideas, radical and conventional at once, are out of step with the authorities.

Canada’s image of tolerance is disabused when this slightly bumbling and misinterpreted innocent meets the frustration of being denied asylum in spite of seemingly meeting the criteria.   All he wanted was ‘a blackboard where I can erase and start over’. This is a play to be viewed on several levels, all worth consideration, with the end result being simply a good drama.

August 6-7, 9-11, 16-18, 23-24 £11 (£9)

August 12-14, 19-21, 25-28 (12 (£10)