Theatre & Extremism: Grief, Terror & Growth at #edfringe2015

It has always happened. It will keep happening as long as inequality and ignorance render us alien to ourselves and others. In response, theatre has been used to reflect and understand its senselessness and inhumanity. So, who is talking about extremism at this year’s Fringe?

I have been approached by one theatre company so far who is presenting this sensitive subject and I am keen to find more.

Susanne Sulby is an American performer and playwright; her play, Sanctuary,  portrays three women’s experience of the war in the Middle East. The Sanctuary press team were kind enough to send me their script. What is particularly interesting about Sulby’s play is that it presents three very valid points of view. On the one hand, her play comments on how we are exposed to the atrocities of war by the media; then we have the experience of a detached war correspondent; and finally the story of a POW, longing for her mother and children. It is this triangular relationship that most intrigues me, and I look forward to seeing this show soon.

I am disturbed and what’s more there is nothing to do. I need to extract her – to make changes – to stop this violence so I can live my life in peace.

(‘Sanctuary’ by Susanne Sulby)

Sulby has become a dedicated herald for world peace and, as far as I can tell, her play is a true reflection of her commitment to the cause.

It is never an easy subject to broach, but theatre can take an active stance on terror attacks; engaging a wider audience with people’s plight and creating a productive platform where people can share their thoughts and fears.

By definition, ‘Terrorism’ constitutes the use of violence and intimidation for political aims; what theatre can do is confront that intimidation. We may not be able to end the violence that’s existed between us for millennia; but the fear, the terror, we absolutely can confront. Theatre can check under the bed for the Bogey Man; it can be the night-light; dispelling fear and challenging the dominion that terrorism can hold over us. Is it not the unknown that frightens us the most? I think it could be. The ‘why’ and ‘when’ of terrorism is as much a weapon as the gun and grenade.

Having looked through the Edinburgh Fringe brochure, I have found a few other productions along a similar line. Sadly, I can’t say I’ll be able to see them all, but I would be delighted to hear from those who have.

New Celts Productions and Laughing Hen Productions are putting up the darkly comic play, Bold Girls by Rona Monro. The play is set during The Troubles in Belfast and tells the story of the women left amidst a degrading community and failing families, diving into their own obscurity, conflict and conviction. On the one hand, the play comments on Northern Irish culture, but also reflects more broadly on Western culture as a whole. By addressing loyalty, materialism, Catholicism and division; this play is set to be an exciting glimpse of life under the pressures of extremism. I look forward to seeing how, under such pressures, one finds their own personal strength realign with the new norm, for better or worse.

Also visiting The Fringe this year is the well-renowned Myriam Francois-Cerrah. This year, Francois-Cerrah is holding a talk on Overstating Religion in the Middle East. The talk covers the Israeli Palestinian conflict, via Iran and ISIL; making this very provocative but often invalidated point

how important is religion really as an explanatory variable in the region and what are the dangers in over stating it? – EdFringe

Essentially, this talk looks at the roots of extremism in the middle east; making the argument that it is social politics, as much if not more so than religion, that fuels the fires of hatred and intolerance.

Taking a look at Christian extremism this year are the clever bunch behind last year’s successful musical Man Enough; their new musical, Jesus Camp: The Musical Comedy, is set to shock as much as it entertains.  The Musical is about two unlikely All-American Heroes as they face the brainwash and dogma of a Christian Summer Camp

Warning: not for the biblically sensitive. –EdFringe

We readily forget about Christian extremism, preferring to focus on fanatics from other faiths. It is far easier to criticise other faiths than a familiar one. ultimately, extremism can be found everywhere and we should challenge it where ever it rears its snaky head.

I was recently sent a PR breakdown from Textual Healing with a particularly interesting comedian on the bill. Although this show is essentially the antithesis of my article’s agenda, I want to mention it. It seems right and good to highlight a performer who challenges Islamophobia. Aatif Nawaz’s debut show, Muslims Do It Five Times A Day, is a stand-up set focussing on how small of a difference there is between Muslim culture and the mainstream. This show is set to be a comic reflection on all our similarities, as well as some of our own home-grown extremists (Britain First, The BNP and Athiest extremists) some of which Nawaz encountered as a journalist for Living The Life. This stand-up performance has been incredibly well received already; one particularly warming review described the experience:

‘ a room full of strangers is transformed by Aatif’s jokes and generosity, into a room full of friends.’

Broadway World

In an interview for Entouraaj, Nawaz explains what you can expect from his show:

‘Muslims Do It 5 Times A Day’ is really a show for non-Muslims. It’s a little sneak peak into the life of someone who isn’t unlike themselves – just someone of a different faith… but if we can all laugh at the same things, then are we really that different?

-Aitif Nawaz

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, in our current climate, our nation’s prejudice towards Muslims is not only on the rise, but being shamefully encouraged; mainly by tabloid journalists, but also on social media. Now more than ever, it is important for us to hear a strong yet sensitive voice bring to the foreground all that bonds us, rather than what drives us apart.

I’m sure there is more out there that I have missed. I’m sure that the stage is set to challenge one of mankind’s greatest flaws. I just wanted to highlight the potential. Be sure to engage with the theatre brave enough to explore the things that scare us the most.

All in, the importance of addressing extremism in theatre is undeniable. Without the courage to reflect, we are denied the chance to grow.


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