A polemical hammer blow only slightly softened by its playful dance theatre medium, provocative company DV8 Physical Theatre's 'Can We Talk About This?' steams into militant Islam and Muslim extremism with a cold fury that'll knock the air from your lungs.
Though the verbatim script includes the testimonies of many Muslims and the company is pointedly multi-ethnic, it's hard for a white liberal of a Christian background like myself to not feel intensely uncomfortable at points during this show, which is conceived and directed by another white liberal, DV8 boss Lloyd Newson. That's something DV8 is well aware of: 'Who here feels morally superior to the Taliban?' asks performer Hannes Langolf at the outset, before scoffing at our meagre response.
There is little new in the 80 minutes of verbatim interviews relayed by the fabulously flexible troupe of performers: the fatwa against Salman Rushdie is dealt with, as is the murder of Dutch documentary maker Theo Van Gogh; Jeremy Paxman's voice booms out during recordings of his clashes with the likes of Sharia law proponent Anjem Choudary. But the cumulative impact is searing and the message unequivocal: that in the wider political arena there is a double standard regarding what the British establishment deems 'offensive' to Islam and what it deems offensive to other religions, and the reason for this lies in fear of violent reprisals.
What distinguishes 'Can We Talk About This?' from more straightforward verbatim theatre is DV8's astonishing physicality. Zooming around on tip toes, contorting themselves unnaturally and jerking around like malfunctioning marionettes as they deliver their lines, there is an air of mischief and self-mockery to the performers – not exactly tongue in cheek, but playful enough to stop the show coming across as a rant. I'd have liked to see if the company could have found anything to say on the subject without using words, but the physicality feels justified: at the very least it sugars the pill.
The real question preying on my woolly liberal mind: would somebody from the EDL or BNP enjoy this show? It's doubtful: it wholeheartedly endorses a multi-faith, multi-ethnic society, just not one that panders to violent extremists and human rights offenders. Would Nick Griffin enjoy this show more than Anjem Choudary? Honestly, I imagine he would ?– but then he has his own agenda.
There is no solving the challenges posed by a multi-faith society– or the white far right – if we can't hold an honest discussion about them: 'Can We Talk About This?' is one hell of a conversation starter.