Thursday 3rd October 2019 at Leeds Playhouse.
To put one wronged individual on a stage paves the way for a fiery performance, but fill the stage with wronged individuals dissecting every detail of the wrongdoing and you pave the way for just over an hour of fiercely indignant performance. In a relentless pursuit of truth in the face of corruption, a cast of five expose the bare bones of the Birmingham schools Trojan Horse investigations layer by layer.
Informed by 200 hours of interviews, public documents and the content of public hearings, the play contains extracts of testimonies from the real people caught up in the Trojan Horse investigations. Written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead and translated by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi, it’s an interrogative piece which takes on increasing force as the narrative is laid out for us. Though it feels incredibly dramatic, it’s organically so because there’s nothing about the events that wasn’t dramatised by those within the tangle and that inherent drama makes it ripe for the stage.
This is Making a Murderer on a theatrical scale, calling time on systemic flaws within both government and society at large. It meaningfully explores both sides, but ultimately arrives at a far less ambiguous conclusion. It gradually releases defining information most wouldn’t know until doubts are challenged to dissipate entirely. Having taken us on a 75 minute journey of profiling, a damning dissection of double standards and bare faced politically motivated scheming, it hands over the reins to the wronged party, producing a sharp account of a cautionary tale.
The cast as a whole are pretty fantastic but Gurkiran Kaur, Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood in particular bring incredibly strong performances to the table. Kaur offers great insight as Farah, a pupil living through the debacle of the investigations while also trying to engage with her education. It’s through Kaur that the production finds its snatches of humour and it’s brilliantly played, tapping into that window between immaturity and maturity for blunt humour with quite complex undertones.
Amin offers a strong force as a headmistress caught up in troubling times – her performance is full to tipping point with indignation and frustrations which make her very compelling even within the wider context of disproving half-cocked theories. Mahmood’s Tahir brings yet more passion to the mix, forcing us on side with his sense of fierce dignity and deep sense of pride in his vocation. Mustafa Chaudhry’s Rashid carries a similar tone of principled strength and Keshini Misha plays a great light-hearted counterpart to Kaur’s angst-filled Farah.
Matt Woodhead’s direction offers an impressive sense of propulsion from the very beginning which never really departs. We’re shifted from pillar to post via booming music and brisk segues, leaving no lost connection between the impact of the runaway enquiries and the performance depicting it. It’s a stylistic feature repeated a little too often perhaps but it certainly sets a crisply restless pace.
This was only ever going to be a roaringly political piece but as in all the best cases, political excavation is rooted in human experience here and we’re forced to view the facts and events through the eyes of individuals rather than headlines. Such subject matter will always be complex in nature and when it’s done well, as it is here, it makes for very compelling viewing.
Trojan Horse is presented by Lung in association with Leeds Playhouse. It plays at the Playhouse until October 5th 2019 and you can find tickets here.
Note: production images do not feature all current cast members.