ComedyDramaReviewSouth West

Bin Laden: The One Man Show – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Writers: Knaive Theatre

Director: Tyrrell Jones

Reviewer: Helen Tope

An award-winning production, fresh from a tour across America, Bin Laden: The One Man Show is the little show with big ambition.

Staged in The Lab at Theatre Royal Plymouth, Knaive Theatre uses this rehearsal and performance space to create a drama is both thought-provoking and vivid. The one-act, one-man show tells the story of Osama Bin Laden’s life and the events that led up to 9/11.

The production is a satire within a satire, inverting our expectations. The title suggests a black comedy, irreverence in plentiful supply, but what we get is a retelling of Bin Laden’s story done honestly and without embellishment. Knaive Theatre takes a well-worn narrative, ‘Islam vs The West’, and asks the audience one question– what would we do to leave a better world for our children? What actions would we take against those would oppress us? Violence? Non-violence? The pessimists among us might argue that a world fashioned in our own image will only ever be flawed, but the show gives us Osama the Idealist; young and eager for change. The production does not paint him as a villain but leaves us with our own thoughts.

It’s a remarkably clever piece of theatre, right from the start. In a neat touch, the genial meet-and-greet man handing out tea and biscuits to the audience as they come in, slowly reveals himself to be Osama. This wrong-footing becomes a motif throughout the performance. The stage, decorated with corporate fixtures; a flip chart, a carefully-presented book for our consideration, is also a red herring. The opening discussion with the audience melts away to reveal a show using minimal props and an audience’s imagination to fill in the rest. The story-telling is excellent; you forget you are watching one man on a small stage and become drawn into Osama’s world.

Played by Sam Redway, Bin Laden is charismatic, personable, and the chain of events that determine the course of his life become easily explained, but not explained away. History is a matter of perspective, and the War on Terror is a perfect example of this. But the play comes into its own in the final minutes where Osama lays bare his plans for the great foe, America. Bin Laden’s solution, an ever-increasing circle of violence, is his blind spot. In trying to create a better world, he may leave us with none.

Bin Laden: The One Man Show fails to meet expectations, but that’s what makes it so impressive. It’s thought-provoking without being preachy; exposes uncomfortable truths about the world we live in, and this is achieved in the space of an hour. The praise heaped on this production is well-earned: it’s phenomenal.

Runs until Saturday 22 July 2017 | Image: Nick Rutter

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