Edinburgh Fringe 2017
A dystopian shopping channel touts the Caliphate with all the cheeriness of a tangle-free garden hose. A young man battles his inner djinns. Two girls exchange destinies from Daesh to Dartford and Dartford to Daesh, while the Muslim Banksy sprays outrage across the night.
This is a production which explores several issues and asks the audience to engage with modern and pertinent questions which preoccupy the national and international news headlines. We are invited to consider the role that poor mental health plays in radicalisation, and how a search for structure and guidance can result in extreme choices and outcomes. However it is more than an ‘issues’ peice; this is engaging and gripping theatre delivered with intensity. The writer Nazish Khan has created a powerful, textered piece complemented by a beautiful but simple set designed by Anna Lewis, used imaginatively by director Jessica Lazar.
Zulfi, a lowly inman, living in a community mosque, and Bacchus, a new Islam convert and cheeky ex-con and blogger, narrate stories of young people and families bound by and torn apart by different interpretations of the muslim faith. There are four strong confident performances from versatile young actors, each taking on several very different characters as the story shifts rapidly from Kent, Syria, Turkey. Conversations and interactions happen face to face, online, through the television and with the audience.
Clearly a lot of research has been done by the playwright. Sometimes the action is too layered to grasp all the threads and the writer and director could consider more variety in tone and delivery, even some silence. These are important and serious issues – the audience shouldn’t be let off the hook – but the relentlessness of the production could let up occasionally to allow us to draw breath and reflect. And although the stories are very moving the pace of the production prevents development of sympathy; just as we invest in one story other demands our attention.
Quillam International, the producers, are an organisation set up to challenge extremism and promote pluralism, and to seek to engage a range of audiences in dialogues. This piece of theatre succeeds in posing thoughtful questions and getting to look at the humans behind the headlines.