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Battersea Arts Centre/Touring
VERBATIM theatre has a track record for creating powerful and atmospheric drama and Trojan Horse is a superb example.
Created by young talents Matt Woodhead and Helen Monks, this gripping piece brings to life the complex and controversial story of claims a few years ago that Muslim extremism had infiltrated Birmingham schools.
It’s a work of great maturity, unravelling the community’s confused and angry reactions to media stories of scandals and plots. Those at the chalkface had a different view of the shenanigans and their testimonies drive the drama here.
LUNG Theatre, which based Trojan Horse on 200 hours of interviews, as well as public documents and transcripts from public hearings, is no stranger to bringing real people’s words alive.
Their portfolio includes Chilcot, which eviscerated the claims made by the Blair government to justify the war on Iraq and E15, the campaign by single mothers in the London borough of Newham who struck back against a state planning to kick them out of their homes.
One victim of the Birmingham row is represented as feisty and vulnerable pupil Jess (Komal Amin), her burgeoning sexuality a secret entrusted to teacher Rashid (Mustafa Chaudhry). There is betrayal to come, for both of them.
Chaudhry’s portrayal is particularly fine.
Is there any more melancholy sight than the teacher who can no longer teach? Yet writers Monks and Woodhead — the latter also directs — haven’t served up a stereotype. There’s a spotlight on his secrets and mistakes too.
The set, a few old-style school desks on castors serving as a classroom or rearranged to a courtroom, is deceptively simple. As the cast wheel and slam them together, there’s an alarming leitmotif — the school desk weaponised.
As the media feeds on fake letters revealing plots, bolstered by gossip and politicians’ zeal for “British values,” teenagers’ educations are sacrificed and educators labelled for life.
Michael Gove, then education secretary, is often referenced often and he doesn’t come out of this well. This gutsy drama puts him firmly in the frame for building the Trojan Horse and getting others to ride it into town.
There’s a petition championed by LUNG demanding a government definition of Islamophobia which is currently paused for the coming election but will return afterwards and you can sign it at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/276905 .
Runs until November 16, box office: bac.org.uk and then at Midlands Arts Centre Birmingham from November 19-21, box office: macbirmingham.co.uk
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