Word-Play at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

Word-Play Reviews

Reviews are coming in for Rabiah Hussain’s new play Word-Play at the Royal Court theatre.

Directed by Nimmo Ismail, the play explores the top-down structures of language and their far-reaching, long-lasting consequences

The cast includes Issam Al Ghussain, Kosar Ali, Simon Manyonda, Sirine Saba and Yusra Warsama, andWord-Play is running at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs from 20 July to Saturday 26 August 2023.

Word-Play at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson
Photo by Johan Persson

The creative team also includes design by Rosanna Vize, with lighting design by Jamie Platt. The composer and sound designer is XANA, the movement director is Ken Nakajima and the casting director is Isabella Odoffin. The voice coach is Emma Woodvine, the assistant director is Aneesha Srinivasan and the associate designer is Alys Whitehead.

Read reviews from the Guardian, Times, TimeOut, Stage and more, with further reviews to be added.

Book tickets to Word-Play at the Royal Court Theatre, London.

Word-Play reviews

The Evening Standard

"Playful, thoughtful, and deliciously up-to-the-minute"

"Often hilarious, sometimes moving, this play about how words matter has a cumulative power"

"Words matter. That’s the premise of Rabiah Hussain’s snappy exploration of how language is misused, policed, cherished or simply supplanted in today’s London. There’s no narrative as such: it’s a series of sketches that are often hilarious, sometimes moving and which gain a cumulative thematic power. It’s acted by a diverse five-strong cast with deeply funny bones, on a bare stage with a letterbox window at one end and a mural of rainbow inclusivity at the other."

"... Hussain, director Nimmo Ismail and the cast are mostly hugely adroit at providing quick hits of insight and character. The acting is uniformly strong, but I particularly liked Simon Manyonda’s effortless portrayal of a series of awkward nerds, and the conspiratorial ability of Kosar Ali – supporting star of the 2019 indie film Rocks, and still only 19 – to invite you into her performance."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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"The insidious potential of bland language is explored in Rabiah Hussain’s fascinating new play"

"Rabiah Hussain’s new play skewers a particularly British kind of bigotry, quietly corrosive as acid rain. A kind that implies things without saying them, gently enforces conformity, and rebrands hatred as plain common sense. ‘Word-Play’ deliberately talks around its points, in a series of sketch-like scenes exploring how language clouds reality. Sometimes, its impact is blurred by the same obfuscation that it’s satirising – sometimes it's blade-sharp."

"The play is bookended by scenes set in the world of politics, showing that this country’s tone is set by the people in charge."

"Director Nimmo Ismail nails the tone here, while the hardworking five-strong cast wring much humour from these surreal scenarios. Still, specificity is a central ingredient of comedy, making their task here harder: the vagueness and circularity of the language is the point, but sometimes it's nonetheless overwhelming."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Guardian

"Amusing riffs on slippery language and politicians"

"Daring production ranges boldly from very funny Westminster satire to suffering families at the sharp end of Home Office policy"

"As a play, it is boldly, excitingly experimental – the Whitehall scenes happen behind Rosanna Vize’s glass-box set design, there is a fast to-and-fro of WhatsApp messages being read aloud that lend satirical comedy and Xana’s rumbling compositions bring drama. But ultimately the play’s parts feel too scattered, abstract and fleeting."

"It is amusing and original, but like other riffs, it stays surface–bound.... Yet Hussain’s script shines in sudden moments of lyrical outrage and the actors do these scenes justice: a poetic monologue in which a character finds words rising up from her mother tongue, a university student speaking of the physicality of language and the way in which offensive words can lodge in the body."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Stage


"Thoughtful, if sometimes frustratingly opaque, play about the impact of the language we use"

"Hussain’s play – during the writing of which she experienced aphasia following surgery to remove a brain tumour – is frequently concerned with the feeling that words can generate in the body as well as in wider society, the physicality of language. However, the way in which the play so often focuses on things half-said or unsaid, implied or alluded to without being explicitly expressed, can make it feel opaque."

"With the exception of the Downing Street scenes, which are presented like The Thick of It minus the baroque profanity, Nimmo Ismail’s production also feels a bit flat in places, although the cast do a solid job of hopping between scenarios. The play is at its most resonant, however, in the way it capture language’s ability both to divide people, and to unite them."

Natasha Tripney, The Stage
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The Times

"Another blandly middle-class flop for the Royal Court"

"The series of vignettes that Rabiah Hussain and the director Nimmo Ismail have woven together set out to explore the power of political language, so it’s all the more disappointing that most of them turn out to be so wilfully obscure, like random pages torn from some postmodern textbook. What makes this 80-minute piece even more exasperating is that Ismail gets such assured performances from a cast of five led by Issam Al Ghussain and Sirine Sabe."

"Every now and then, tantalisingly, we get a hint of a much more original voice, but most of the observations conform to the utterly conventional — and, dare I say it, blandly middle-class — boho world view of the Royal Court in-crowd."

"A sombre end to another frustrating evening at this venue. One of the first tasks of the Royal Court’s incoming artistic director, David Byrne — who has made such a success of the New Diorama — has to be to put a once-innovative institution on a fresh path."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Observer

"A dinner party turns nasty at the Royal Court"

"There are sharp descriptions of the way words from a mother tongue may bubble up into the daily speech of an acquired second language. There are some flabby word-association passages, generalised disquisition on the gap between intention and delivery. The subject becomes so all-embracing that it smothers focus. Yet there are unforgettable moments."

"One scene has actors (it’s a strong cast) sitting among the audience owlishly to discuss what it’s like watching a play at the Court Upstairs. Encased in Rosanna Vize’s wraparound design, the audience witness an exchange between a figure in a mirror and a figure on stage: a terrific image of dialogue that seems transparent yet takes place behind a barrier."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: Word-Play at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson

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