Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
In 2014, a Birmingham school was accused of promoting Islamist propaganda in an attempt to radicalise its high-achieving students. As was eventually proven in court following national tabloid hysteria, such inflammatory notions were in fact complete hokum, and any ideology being promoted was more likely that propagated by government.
While the fall-out of the damage done prevails, it remains vital that what happened is shouted from the rooftops. This is more than achieved here in this touring revival of Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead’s verbatim play for their LUNG company, presented here in co-production with Leeds Playhouse.
Drawn from 200 hours of interviews, what could be a dry and dense affair is transformed in Woodhead’s production into an urgent dramatic dispatch from the frontline. As it gives voice to teachers and pupils caught in the crossfire as well as local councillors treading on eggshells, it lays bare how fake news can be manipulated by those in power.
With five actors navigating their way around a set of choreographed school desks, each scene is punctuated by Owen Crouch’s beat-based sonic mash-ups and illuminated by Will Monks’ projections. Over the play’s eighty minutes, this makes for a vital and punchy treatise on how truth can be distorted to create calculated hysteria. Komal Amin, Mustafa Chaudhry, Gurkiran Kaur, Qasim Mahmood and Keshini Misha are a committed and well-drilled ensemble who show off the human face of the sort of everyday injustice too often lost to the dispassionate sleight of hand of official reports.
All of which is probably why the show understandably won the much missed Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award when it was first seen on the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Whether lessons have been learnt or not remains to be seen. Following its brief Edinburgh run and Glasgow dates this week, plans are afoot to present the show in Westminster itself. This should make for a lively and all too necessary piece of theatrical sedition.
The Herald, February 13th 2020