Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead
6 February 2020-7 February 2020; 75min, no interval
Adapted from the genuine testimonies of those wrapped up in the 2014 Government inquiry into alleged radical Islamic teaching at Park View Trust academies in Birmingham, Trojan Horse was a small story that hit the national press by happening, in Government eyes, to the right kind of people at the right time.
As far as LUNG's verbatim-theatre account of the apparent travesty of justice and fairness goes, a duplicitous government had a field day rigging the news and then the inquiry to play to a fear-and-loathing agenda that could in turn lead, cynically, to strong Government action to save our schools from the wrong sort of education.
The story blew up when a headteacher, allegedly bullied into leaving one school by a radical governing faction, found her new job going the same way. Her lobbying, plus a letter detailing ways schools could be overtaken by muslim radicals – never attributed to anyone, so far as the show is concerned – led fingers quickly to point at a long-serving Park View governor partly responsible for turning a failing school into what Ofsted calls an "outstanding" one by tough governance. National newspaper stories were followed by a Government inquiry that ruined careers and reputations for, allegedly, political ends.
Written following more than 200 hours of interviews with teachers, students, parents and governors, LUNG ‘s edited "verbatim" play clearly comes down on the side of the school and its governors and teachers – one of whom saw his career in stasis for almost three years because of the long drawn-out inquiry.
The whole account is partisan, but that doesn't make it unworthy or suspect. Certainly it will have been skewed by judicious editing, but this is nonetheless a very convincing theatre work. It neither paints the protagonists as pure of heart nor of radical bent, just a bit tough on the one hand and a bit stupid on the other. The Government, on the other hand, comes over as a bunch of truth-bending despots eager to bend the facts for political capital.
As a play you can forget the usual expectations of character development, and the plot is of course a linear one entirely drawn from verbatim accounts. The result is a little rushed (especially for those not too familiar with the places, plot points and people) but quite thrilling in its audacity – though I would have liked actress Gurkiran Kaur to have spoken a little less quickly...
The cast of five (Gurkiran plus Komal Amin, Mustafa Chaudhry, Qasim Mahmood and Keshini Misha) seem strongly committed to the story and raise in the viewer the strong sense of the injustice felt by the victims of incompetence and cynicism.
Interestingly, the current tour will end with a performance at the House of Commons. No doubt anyone from Government who sees it there will not agree with a word of it...
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