Trojan Horse – Traverse Theare

Written by Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead

Directed by Matt Woodhead

Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.

Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in. 

Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.

Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.

For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real0life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.

Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent. 

The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.

Photo credit – Ant Robling

Preview: Dead Good – The Studio

Dead Good is set to open in Edinburgh on February 13th at The Studio, Festival Theatre. Playing for two nights at 19.30pm before touring further. Tickets can be found at:https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Abstracts and quotations taken from syndicated interview by Diane Parkes

Death is just around the corner, so why not go in style? Or at the very least, throw a few punches first. Despite the inevitability, we never discuss death – who can blame us? Vamos Theatre, however, envisions Dead Good as an accessible way of prying open the door to open discussion.

We start our story at the end of theirs; told that they are dying, Bob and Bernard embark on one last grand adventure, living every ounce of time they have left to the fullest. The two men come to realise the values of life, love and wealth friendship can offer. Marrying tragedy with the mask of comedy, writer & artistic director Rachael Savage wants: “to demystify death and take the fear out of it” while incorporating a thirst for life and appreciation of humour. 

There is one thing our attitudes towards mortality can be truly harvested for – laughs. It’s a fact that artistic producers are capable of finding the fun in funeral, Savage seeking to entertain as much as she wishes to leave audiences with discussion as well as memories;

“I think people expect to go away from one of our shows having laughed and cried and with something to think about” 

In collaboration with palliative care patients and specialists, Dead Good continues Vamos Theatre’s dedication to creating theatre encompassing under-represented groups, Savage stating:

I give people a voice who often don’t have one, so our shows have to be about things that I am passionate about and that I want to make people think differently about.

As part of their research, for 18 months, Vamos Theatre gained first-hand experiences and opinions on the subject of mortality, and the attitudes surrounding this to capture authenticity. Further, the buzz and determination behind the production secure an understanding that those behind Dead Good have created the piece with solid intentions.

Due to the production’s nature of mask use, the communication method of the show welcomes anyone, being fully accessible to deaf audiences without a signer.

Aron De Casmaker, a Canadian clown performer who honed his skills with Cirque du Soleil plays Bob. Ringing the delicate matter of death to the nation, and is certainly one to catch for its two-night stay in Edinburgh. De Casmaker reinforcing his interest and passion for the project;

I’m really excited about this project. The idea of finding the lightness in dark material really attracts me to the theatre and in this show we are hitting a very realistic view of death head-on and then finding the joy and the lightness that comes from that

Set to deliver on tears of laughter, and a few shed out of inspiration, Dead Good has received positive coverage for its tackling of a hushed subject, with Tammy Gooding of BBC Hereford & Worchester awarding the production five stars, advising audiences to bring tissues.

Dead Good opens at The Festival Theatre – The Studio on February 13th at 19.30pm. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Full touring dates can be found at Vamos Theatre at: https://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/show/dead-good#diary

Heroine – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Mary Jane Wells

Director: Susan Worsfold

At the heart of this production, a prime example of raw, honest theatre, is the life story of Danna Davis. Adapted in a brutal, purposeful way, Heroine hasn’t been crafted by writer and performer Mary Jane Wells as a sob story, nor a hate piece – it’s a profound amalgam of anger, outrage, fragility and survival.

Five stools, five spotlights – one story. Danna Davis, a woman serving in the United States military who must work, live and survive among those who have sexually assaulted her; those who threaten her life, and the lives of those she loves every day. More than this, it’s a story for anyone in the room, those at home and both Wells and Davis, ensuring silence is no longer an associate of perpetrators.

Written in a variety of fashions, Well’s production combines metaphorical lyricism with gritty, literal expression to demonstrate both the innate power of the human condition, as well as the fragility we all share. Rather than an extensive discussion of the sexual assault Davis experienced, a contained segment is all which is required, a lacerating depiction of the event, hushing what feels like the world for a few minutes as Well’s dedication and respect for the role speaks volumes. Cast in George Tarbuck’s lighting design, it’s a harrowing piece of beautiful theatre design, even as it uncovers the degeneracy and retaliation within our armed forces.

An assault on the senses, Matt Padden’s effective sound design is disorientating at times, though this is inherently the idea behind such design. Loud, invasive and immediate, the stark change of everyday noises into PTSD situations triggers the transformation which pushes Heroine beyond observational. It’s sensory theatre, quite possibly one of the few shows which would work equally as a radio or audio drama.

Remarkably personal, Well’s writing captures (we suspect) as close an account of Davis’ experience as possible. In a haunting way, it’s a beautifully written production – distressingly lyrical, wrapping such vile, grim reality in a vexing garb which, despite its subject matter, is funny, touching, engaging and in some morbid sense – comforting. Well’s performance conveys the process of grief, just as equally as the process of aggression and forgiveness, and in tandem with Susan Worsfold’s wonderfully simplistic, yet effective direction builds rapport with the audience quickly.

Perhaps a result of the heightened emotional nexus, Heroine finds itself an overflow of intense moments. Never detracting from the message, structurally it causes halts and wobbles in a production which otherwise is a pinnacle of honesty. With how rooted Well’s writing is in the life of another, and the experiences of so many, there’s little wonder that emotion bubbles over, occasionally taking Wells out of her role as Davis, throwing her off.

The fact we sit in 2020, with powerful productions such as Well’s still a necessity to offer a release, opening dialogue for those experiencing sexual assault and retaliation while serving in the armed forces, is beyond explanation, but it’s a story we need to hear. A story we must preserve, ensuring that for as long as sexual assaults within any workplace, especially those who defend our nations, continues, that there remain a stark reminder and avenue of exploration for all.

Review originally published for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/heroine-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit: Greg Macvean