There’s nothing flashy or dramatically radical about ‘Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State’. This new verbatim play from director Nicolas Kent and writer Gillian Slovo – who have previously collaborated on plays about the London riots and Guantánamo Bay – trusts in the power of first-person testimonies and theatre to throw a spotlight on them with little embellishment or unnecessary coaxing.
Kent and Slovo’s subject is the rise of Islamic State and the flow of European teens to Syria in recent years. At a Brussels community centre they interviewed grieving mothers of IS recruits; in Tower Hamlets in east London they spoke to Muslim students amused and exasperated at being wrongly judged; and on both sides of the Atlantic they captured the opinions of various technical experts, academics and interested parties (including, fascinatingly, former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg) to get their take on what’s happening and why.
The job of field reporting done, Kent and Slovo then crafted their interviewees’ words into this sober, inquiring play that attempts to reset our understanding of IS, free of built-up prejudice and accumulated myths. We move between their various speakers with a simple efficiency: the set is mostly just chairs and a simple projected image to denote a change of place. A mosaic of video screens creates a map of Syria and occasionally we see clips of IS propaganda videos or an actor (Nabil Elouahabi) playing IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The actors are essentially reporters; most of their words are delivered directly to the audience. We assume the role of the silent interviewer.
In content, ‘Another World’ is comparable to a bumper, brilliantly curated edition of BBC’s 'Newsnight'. But the framing of theatre demands that we look again at issues that news reports can render overly familiar. Theatre also personalises facts: here, we see the faces of mothers who have lost their sons to extremism; we see the passion and pain behind the eyes of expert talking heads whose job is to be rational and cold. ‘Another World’ also balances extremely personal perspectives with helpful historical and political context, plus suggestions of how we can improve things. This is theatre as the first draft of history – raw and immediate.