Vault Festival 2018: Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy
Wearing khaki military pants, a man is tied to a pole with his head covered by a black bag. Queen is playing loudly – first, We Are the Champions, then We Will Rock You. Are we about to witness a massive torture by Queen?
Bismillah! is not a tribute to the rock band, nor a torture drama. It is an audacious production that stages an arresting discussion of current affairs. Defined as an ISIS tragicomedy, it was co-written by Matthew Greenhough, who also plays as the captive British soldier, Dean. After marvelling audiences at the Edinburgh Festival in 2015, the show is debuting for the first time in London at the Vault Festival.
Dean is 24 years old and has joined the army to do something with his life, and because he thought “it looked fun, like Uni”. Danny (Elliot Liburd), Dean’s guard, is British too, or at least he was born in the UK, but he has fled from there to join the Islamic State. Both men come from the same country, but their skin colour is different and their beliefs clash. Yet, as they begin bonding, they realise they have things in common, such as meeting girls on Tinder, Weatherspoons, KFC and the meal deal at WH Smith – the characters’ anecdotes provoke bursts of laughter from theatregoers. But Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is not all giggles. Liburd creates great tension when he brings up politics and religion. The emptiness of the “Western bullshit society” and how fear drives men to do things they don’t want to are discussions that resonate with the audience.
The setting is a basement in Iraq, and the Cavern stage gives the perfect feeling of a cold, gloomy dungeon. Except for a pole and some bread and water, there is no set design whatsoever. The two-man show relies only on the awe-inspiring dialogue and on the viewer’s imagination. The special sound effects that simulate the war are convincing enough to make us feel as terrified as the characters are.
Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy certainly brings to the stage a sensitive and complicated matter, but still manages to cause amusement. And, although there are tense moments throughout the play, the tale celebrates the humanity of two men, stressing that the things and feelings that unify them are more important than those that separate them.
Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is at Vault Festival 2018 from 28th February until 4th March 2018. For further information or to book visit the festival website here.