“Realistic, respectful and approached with careful integrity. “
LUNG theatre has gained popularity recently for their creative championing of minority demographics and events neglected by the media. They have done well to establish their own verbatim style that values justice, professionalism and integrity; attributes that shine very brightly throughout Trojan Horse. Written by Matt Woodhead and Helen Monks, Trojan Horse premiered in Edinburgh in 2018 when it won both the Fringe First award and the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. Trojan Horse is adapted from over 200 hours of interviews, containing public documents and speeches taken directly from public interviews. The performance follows the famous 2014 scandal that surrounded the ‘alleged’ conspiracy within Park View Academy, Nansen Primary and several other Birmingham schools by Islamist extremists, who were supposedly planning to infiltrate the curriculum by enforcing their religious ethos.
It is in this sense of verisimilitude that LUNG really excel in honoring the story of the teachers, parents and students who were directly affected by the inquiries. The acting style was realistic, respectful and approached with careful integrity.
The fast-paced dynamicity, and slick transitioning between narratives in the show meant that occasionally I had to remind myself that what I was hearing verbatim stories, and not born-fictional narrative. The cast (Komal Amin, Mustafa Chaudhry, Gurkiran Kaur, Qasim Mahmood, Keshini Misha) work excellently as an ensemble, representing the people at the heart of the enquiry with pride and respect. Mahmood is especially memorable for portraying an honorable image of the selfless Tahir Alam; former chairman of governors at Park View, who was banned from his role for undermining ‘fundamental British values’.
In perhaps its most artful navigation of difficult topics, the piece covers some understandably heavy political content, which is offered in a way that provides context to new audiences without demeaning them. These moments are paralleled masterfully with moments of relief, even comedy. It feels almost wrong to think of laughing together given the subject matter, but in a way, it reflects LUNG’s message on human connectedness beautifully.
As in most of LUNG’s work, Trojan Horse really emphasised the extent that the media can influence public opinion by omitting fact, corrupting the truth and in this case, propagating islamophobia for the purpose of views and retweets. These messages are supported by the constant presence of mobile phones and snippets of radio broadcasts as a key source of communication in the piece. It is here that the piece begs us to confront how we make judgements. Why are we, the British public, so quick to believe the headlines rather than hunt for the full story? When do we begin to accept accountability for how our complacency feeds into the plague of mass-media falsity in Britain? The continuing popularity of LUNG’s Trojan Horse only goes to emphasize its relevance today, and that we still have a lot to learn from our past mistakes.
Trojan Horse is a brilliant example of how theatre can create space to reflect upon socio-political and economic matters that is both cathartic and politicizing. It is clear that the LUNG team are practicing the proactivity that they preach throughout their creative and production processes. The show’s engagement continues beyond the parameters of the stage space, with fundraising, community engagement consultants and an academic advisor. In writing Trojan Horse, Monks and Woodhead had recognised an injustice in the world and gave voice to the voiceless. As a Theatre graduate, seeing Trojan Horse highlighted the absolute necessity for my generation to utilise our privilege, and start writing and creating with/for our communities. In the words of Razwan Faraz: “Young people: do it, tell the story. Because the people at the top aren’t”.
“What are you doing for society?”
At the end of the tour leg, LUNG informed us that they will be taking Trojan Horse to the Houses of Parliament to fight for the Government to commit to a definition of Islamophobia. This success only demonstrates the power of this piece of documentary theatre in implementing real change, and I look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next. Please check out and sign their petition calling on the UK Government to adopt a definition of Islamophobia at: https://bit.ly/2NMe673
Reviewer: Paige Stillwell (Seen February 11)