FringeReview UK 2016
“I.S.I.S has a strong cast led by Hampstead born actor Michael Culver. Michael played Captain Needa in “The Empire Strikes Back” Now he plays Group Captain Beresford at the “Etcetera”.”
What happens when a group of people decides they don’t believe the official narrative of events, and begin to construct a version of their own? Largely, they get called conspiracy theorists – or extremists. Sometimes they gather together to share their disbelief, determined to disseminate their skepticism and belief that the authorities are involved in a Big Lie to deceive the public.
This is the base material of I.S.I.S, Peter Neathey’s cleverly plotted and entertainingly subversive play. We join a group 9/11 disbelievers who call themselves Seven Seconds (the time it took World Trade Centre 7 to collapse on 9/11), led by the charismatic but somewhat self-important Bob (Peter Neathey). He organises public protests to raise awareness of his group’s theory about the September 11 attacks, which, as we discover in scene two, has attracted the attention of the security services (even though, given its modest following, it is hard to see exactly why they would be so worried).
Sitting in a corner behind a desk throughout the performance is the wonderful Michael Culver (Star Wars, Secret Army) as a kind of old school spy master, whose young agents are sent out to infiltrate the Seven Seconds group using sexual entrapment. This thrillerish turn creates real suspense – Culver and the young agents, played by Jordan John and Ayesha De-Garci, both excellent, are assigned undercover roles as would-be group members, sent to undermine and ultimately destroy it.
Culver explains how attractive young American agent Lataetia (De-Garci), seconded from Langley, will go under cover to bring down the group by befriending Bob’s partner Sara (Susan Hoffman), then ensnaring Bob using his own narcissism to destroy his leadership. Fellow agent John meanwhile befriends Brad (Michael McClare), an eccentric gay Jewish activist who is obsessed with Israel’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks, and wants to overthrow the reign of Bob.
The devious goal of this subversion aims to move the group away from the “science” of the attacks toward a campaign targeting Israel – which, as Culver again explains, will fatally tar it as anti-Semitic. It sounds nuts, but as the infiltrators get to work, what unfolds is tragically familiar; and as anyone who has been involved in radical activism will attest, infighting in small groups around apparently obscure differences of doctrine can get very nasty.
There is also a surprising twist in the story of infiltration and subversion that I did not see coming.
Throughout the play, the protagonists use a projector to play clips that explain their theories about the 9/11 attacks – and, ultimately, this is the political pay-off of the plot, the critical bits of data not normally aired on mainstream media that filter through amid the amusing drama. Nuggets of hidden history include the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, protests by anti-Zionists American Jews in Washington, a speech by the late Labour ex-cabinet minister Michael Meacher, and another by John F Kennedy. And of course, the collapse of those buildings in Manhattan in 2001.
Amid the unfolding deception and sexual jealousy, we are invited down the rabbit hole into an Alice in Wonderland reality in which the villains are not the terrorists, but Western and allied intelligence agencies use “false flag” attacks to hypnotise the public and justify endless war.
While one doesn’t have to buy into all the theories, I.S.I.S is an unsettling, funny and mostly well-acted way into the “Truth movement”, as well as an indictment of security services’ underhand actions against peaceful activism.
As the late Michael Meacher says in a recent clip, used in ISIS: “Sometimes conspiracies do happen.”