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

Paper Memories @ North Edinburgh Arts

Image contribution:
Beth Chalmers

Director: Rachael Macintyre

Writer: Mariem Omari

Imagine in ten minutes time, you’re fleeing home. You can only take four objects. Whilst tempted by the glitz or price tags, many would pick items instilled with fragile memories. 

In Jabuti Theatre’s Paper Memories, Tali and her family find themselves relocating to Scotland from an undisclosed location. At first the family find themselves out of place, their mother wishing for nothing more than move on and forget. Tali brings four treasures, each with a memory attached. As each one is cast aside, destroyed or de-valued, her memories begin to tear away, harming Tali further.

We shackle ourselves to memories, and in the attempts to break these we quite often do more harm than good. The more Tali’s mother pushes for these memories to be buried, the tighter Tali clings to them. Mariem Omari’s writing draws deep vivid connections from such small objects – a tuft of fur, a skirt and a wishbone from Grandmother’s special chicken.

What really sells the emotion of loss and family ties are the performances from the cast, Helen Parke’s Tali alongside Jusztina Hermann’s role as the mother especially. Hermann’s mother is a character we can identify with, not questioning why she would want to leave the past buried. Parke’s flippant bursts from sorrow to childlike glee playing with her sister or at the sight of a small paper rabbit are exquisite.

This bunny, hopping onto the audience’s laps, is joined by several chickens and a small, charming dove spiralling around the feats of aerial movement. This audience interaction, whilst aimed at the younger audience members, can be appreciated by adults for its craft, humour and intention. The crisp white of Kim Bergsagel’s puppet design stands out against Simon Gane’s atmospherically rich light design.

Both Parke and director Rachael Macintyre perform aerial feats that are certainly impressive in scale for a smaller venue. It adds wonder to the production in opening up the limited space. We travel the seas, the skies and find ourselves living through the eyes of Tali, all high above the ground below. 

Paper Memories is an approachable look not only at memories and family dynamics, but also on immigration and identity for a younger audience. It’s present, but not a focal point, because the memories and slivers of what the family fled from are enough to open eyes and encourage questions.

Production still touring:
http://www.jabutitheatre.com/paper-memories/

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/paper-memories-north-edinburgh-arts-edinburgh

The Tailor of Inverness @ The Brunton

Image Contribution:
Dogstar Theatre

Writer: Matthew Zajac

Director: Ben Harrison

War and all of its travesties will never be understood. From the British perspective – we were the heroes, they the villains. When presented with people quite literally in the bootstraps of the opposition many are unable to connect. The stories told by people leaving the Third Reich behind are sometimes worn proudly, as a warning. Sometimes hushed, wishing to forget, but for the case of immigrants such as Mateusz Zajac, the reinvention of his time during the war is to ensure his acceptance in Scotland as The Tailor of Inverness.

The son of the Polish tailor, Matthew Zajac has endeavoured to get to the foundations of his father Mateusz’s life during his enigmatic years. Playing both the role of he and his father, this stage adaption keeps the descriptive plot and offers poignant performances with rich accompaniment by fiddler Gavin Marwick.

As the tailor’s strings are stitched, woven into his son Matthew’s jacket it’s within these threads we find the inherent fault with an otherwise remarkable piece of theatre. For those familiar, it’s no secret that Zajac’s writing is at its pinnacle superb, at its weakest complicated. Several threads are left untightened throughout the narrative, though with reason. When all the strands are in place – Zajac pulls the hems together and what we hope for is a tight piece where all threads align. In truth, it isn’t as difficult as others claim to follow – but for the general theatre-going public, it is not straightforward.

Zajac’s ardent performance inherently helps the story. As this is his story, his father’s story, the story of his family and his cultural identity – the delivery is natural. It’s volatile in its emotion, painful to hear, but eye-opening to watch. There’s merriment, dancing and humour – his performance isn’t only compelling, but enjoyable.

Where the theatrical adaption enhances the book, is with the ability to offer visuals. We see the interviews and hear the audio tapes Matthew has made in his travels. While we often enjoy making our own images, the projections allow us to invest so much more in this family’s growth story. The impressive set design, a series of garments flattened into a screen is an inventive method to allow for projection. The ridges in the shirt cuffs, however, cause obstruction of words if you’re far to either side of the theatre.

The theme of circling is eternally present in Zajac’s text, it’s themed such as a strive to battle against ourselves, identity and this complex narrative. The story told by his father, of circling a fox in order to snare it runs parallel to other events. The first, Matthew’s closing in around his father’s footsteps before his time in Scotland. More though, on the subject of immigration, is Mateusz’s reinvention of his past.

Immigration is not just a ‘current’ issue, tragically it’s always been an issue. Even in the reparations of war, Mateusz found himself in another circle – a circle of his own creation surrounding his time in the Soviet Union, as a soldier for the German side, but also a prisoner of war. The truth spiralling in on him, The Tailor of Inverness is indeed relevant still today, just as it was 10 years ago.

Transitioning to the stage works for The Taylor of Inverness, though only so much. The original text has space in order to lay it’s groundwork more seamlessly. The passion, power and triumphant ability within Zajac’s performance is commanding. Regardless of complexity, The Tailor of Inverness is still the construction of importance, an empathetic yet defiant examination of family, reinvention, storytelling and two men’s different but extraordinary journeys.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/the-tailor-of-inverness-brunton-theatre-musselburgh/

Production touring: http://www.dogstartheatre.co.uk/