Edinburgh Fringe 2013
A solo performance with tea and biscuits, Bin Laden: The One Man Show is a mind-boggling descent into the rationale behind one of the world’s great monsters. The man behind the shadowy terrorist group Al-Qaeda, the man who brought down the towers and changed, forever, the way we travel, police, and think about the world, Bin Laden is central to many of the great events of the last thirty years, but many people know very little about him, his motives, or his methods. Knaïve Theatre have set out to find the answers and created this piece as exhibition of their findings.
ReviewIt’s not possible to talk about a man like Osama Bin Laden without controversy – whether condemning, glorifying, or simply examining his life and acts, there will always be some question as to your own motivations and political allegiances. Knaïve Theatre cite curiosity as their reason for exploring the topic and deliberately make no effort to be objective in doing so – Director/co-writer Tyrrell Jones said ‘most people coming to the show will already have heard all the bad things; we wanted to know what could cause someone to do [those things]’. It takes courage to do what Knaïve Theatre have done. Not glorifying or absolving, Bin Laden: The One Man Show dissects the events leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and tries to reconstruct the philosophy of a dead man whose monstrous acts and the subsequent demonization that came with them have ensured that little unbiased information about him remains. The show represents a legitimate attempt to swing the pendulum the other way, get us thinking about the issues from ‘the other side’ and, in doing so, perhaps reassess our own takes on the on-going war on terror.
Sam Redway, the co-writer and actor playing Bin Laden, is a clean-cut, forthright white man, a roguish young performer with an infectious smile and an easy manner. He hands out cups of tea to order, passes around plates of biscuits, and puts us at our ease as we enter the space. This is not the face of a monster, nor is this the manner of a blaggard. A white board stands stage-right, and a temporary tea-point has been set up across the stage, which is otherwise bare, save for a battered suitcase. No magic tricks are going to come out of the box, no illusions projected against the bare black masking hanging upstage. All of the miracles in store for us will be performed inside our minds, the work of the compelling words and earnest demeanour of our host.
Loosely taking the guise of a self-help lecture of sorts, the show walks us through Bin Laden’s personal life. Redway recounts the events of youth and early adult life, enlisting audience members to play some of the parts, as he paints a picture of a reasonable man with legitimate, universal concerns (love of family and the safety of his children, for example). No facile lecture, this is nevertheless a compact retelling, but Redway’s skills as a performer allow him to flit from event to event with agility, always building the stakes higher and higher. And he is one hell of an actor, delivering with enormous power the figure of this man whose anger was as depthless as his passions for family and religion. From towering inferno of rage to desperate, pitiful anguish, his voice is elastic, his features changeable enough to deliver each state with authenticity and truth. Redway gives every ounce of himself to the performance. Indeed, as the show carries on, his very countenance appears to become more haggard and drawn, though less than an hour has elapsed.
Although the tone is light (for the most part) and there are a few laughs, Knaïve don’t take the piss. There is nothing tongue in cheek about Bin Laden: The One Man Show. The material is handled with honesty and integrity, and when Osama is charismatic (as monsters often are), so too is Redway. One finds oneself sympathising with the devil, but then that’s the power figures like Bin Laden have. Master orators, these are men who are able to persuade vast swaths of reasonable men and women to horrific acts with perfect conviction. Our host embodies these qualities exceptionally – if things had gone differently for this modest performer, we might all be in trouble. Certain to get audiences around the globe talking, Bin Laden: The One Man Show creates within the unthinkable a space for debate and dialogue. The real monsters aren’t hidden away in closets or under beds, they’re among us, and we are they. An excellent show with no pretences, this is one you should not miss if you can possibly help it.