This hard-hitting double bill offers a troubling take on modern radicalism.
This new double bill from Red Ladder Theatre Company provides a troubling perspective on London’s 7/7 attacks, with two portraits of young men: one Asian, one white, both of whom commit hate crimes.
The stories we hear of Muslim extremists are riven with contradictions. On the one hand, they are sinister figures on a mission to blow Western civilization apart. On the other, they are well-integrated, listen to hip hop, drink, and form relationships with people who claim to be as shocked as the rest of the world when an atrocity is committed. Playwright Avaes Mohammad, with wise understatement, aims simply to put the spotlight on this cultural schizophrenia, asking what it might mean to live as a young man in a working class northern town where racism is rampant. His Asian character, T – sympathetically evoked by Ragevan Vasan – rages about the hypocrisy of Westerners at one moment, but at the next is doe-eyed as he listens to a phone message from his white girlfriend.
The first scene in the night’s first play ‘Hurling Rubble at the Sun’ could be deemed sensationalist. Jaydev Mistry’s adrenalin-spiking electronic soundtrack amplifies every emotion in the bedsit-based ‘bomb factory’ where T prepares his rucksack. Yet each detail – the obsession with Tupac Shakur, the kitchen table bomb-making – is utterly credible in the light of documentary evidence about young men who become fundamentalists. Where the play grips emotionally is in the lengthy scene where T has dinner with his mother, and tries to say goodbye without revealing why. The story of mother-son relationships ripped apart by fundamentalism is an under-explored one – and this, in particular, terrifyingly highlights the double-life that T must lead.
‘Hurling Rubble At The Moon’ by contrast, focuses on Skef, a young member of the BNP who lives in T’s neighbourhood. If the point of the double bill were to create an idea of simple cause and effect between BNP elements and Islamic fundamentalists, then it would fail. Yet Mohammad simply, and effectively, shows how the colliding of worlds is part of a wider problem. Skef – in a powerful central performance from Jim English – has clearly been abused by his father (a chilling Mark Cameron), yet at the same time has been instilled with a tribalism that rises above any relationships he may form. Like T, he leads a schizophrenic existence; like T, he transcends genuine emotional connections for a warped notion of heroic action. The final scene has been condemned in other reviews for sensationalism. Yet in a world where individuals like Skef routinely hurl petrol bombs into mosques, it is a chillingly logical conclusion to a violently illogical world that we would all do better to understand.