Writers: Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead
Director: Matt Woodhead
Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.
Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in.
Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.
Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.
For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.
Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent.
The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.
Reviewed on 13 February 2020 | Image: Ant Robling