Following a tour that began in Sydney, Australia last September, an extraordinary theatre production called “Can We Talk About This?” opened at the National Theatre in London on 9 March.
The show traces the history of Islamic extremism in Europe from 1985 until now. But how do you hold the interest of a theatre audience for 1 ½ hours when dealing with such a serious and complex issue? For the DV8 Physical Theatre Company the answer was easy – entertain them! So here were not just taking heads, but heads talking while their owners stood on them, shook them from side to side, or cavorted around the stage. To see the avatar of Fleming Rose, culture editor of Jylands Posten defending his decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons while zipping up his trousers and standing on his head was genuine entertainment – as was the sight of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in bra and knickers explaining her decision to display words from the Koran on a naked woman’s body, and her regret over the death of Theo van Gogh. Surreal indeed, but it worked, and it worked amazingly well.
The show managed to deal in depth with both the rise of Islamic extremism and the luke-warm response to it by much of Britain’s liberal intelligentsia. We saw video recording of the protests in London against Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and another of a mob of 300,000 in Bangladesh calling for death to Taslima Nasreen. On stage we saw Shirley Williams, doyenne of the centre-left, pontificating from the throne-like feet of an actor doing hand-stands, and we had a shouting match between an Islamist and his opponent, a verbatim echo of a broadcast debate. When someone threw two rotten tomatoes at the actors and stalked out of the theatre shouting “this is pure xenophobia” most of the audience thought it was part of the show.
Maryam Namazie, dancing around the stage, explained the need to protect Muslim women from sharia courts, which deny them their rights under civil law, and “One Law for All” was scrawled on the back-drop.
Every word in the show was a verbatim record of the words of the protagonists themselves, so Anjem Choudary, explaining that Islam will conquer Europe, justifying a planned demonstration in Wooton Basset against the funeral cortege of dead British soldiers and an actual demonstration at the Cenotaph, could not claim that his vile words had been taken out of context.
The action then morphed to the Human Rights Council in Geneva where the IHEU representative explained the fight against resolutions “combating defamation of religion”, and that Sharia law is in conflict with human rights, and we saw on the giant screen the response of the Pakistani and Egyptian delegates telling the president of the Council that “the holy Sharia will not be discussed in this forum” – the world’s senior body for human rights!
The capacity audience of 900 packed into the theatre were left with no doubt that here was an issue that we do need to talk about, but that attempting to discuss the problem rationally faces opposition from the highest levels in the Islamic world.
Open discussion and the free exchange of ideas will lead to a debate the Islamists can only lose, so we should not be surprised when every attempt to open the debate is greeted with cries of “Islamophobia”, “racism” or “victimisation”.
Can we talk about this?
For the Islamic world, the answer to this question is a resounding “No”.
Can We Talk About This? is an important and courageous, attempt to bring this new and complex social phenomenon to a wider audience. Everyone concerned about the rise of Islamic radicalism should try to see this show. And I would urge DV8 to find some way of bringing it to Canada and the United States, and to make the entire production available on DVD.
The show runs from 9 to 28 March at the National Theatre in London and will then continue their world tour in Korea, Norway, Spain and will return to the UK in May with performances in Salford and Brighton, and conclude their tour in Madrid from 31 May until 3 June.