In 2014, a news story reporting that students in Birmingham schools were being indoctrinated into following strict Islamic principles was broken. This became known as the Trojan Horse scandal.
It all started with an anonymous letter delivered to Birmingham City Council which caused panic. More than 20 schools were being investigated, but five schools in particular were severely marked down in Ofsted inspections – going from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ in a mere matter of months.
Soon, those involved within the schools were being accused of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism,’ by some media outlets. These five schools were in close proximity to one another, in an area of Birmingham where the majority of residents are of the Muslim faith. The original letter was debunked, but the story has remained subject to great public interest and curiosity.
Trojan Horse is a response to this scandal, which arguably contributed to the polarisation of Britain’s relationship with the Muslim community, by LUNG. It was was labelled as a “must-see show” by FringeReview during its run at the festival in 2018.
The show’s dynamic is very tight; the actors had every step down to a tee, and the routines provided a lot of energy and room for interpretation of the play. I also appreciated their creative use of props which also served as symbolic elements; an old-fashioned aesthetic coincided with archaic views that were enforced within the Trojan Horse reports. There were Victorian-style desks, for instance, which the cast moved around on wheels and used for quick-fire costume changes. The use of effective theatrical devices is a key part of LUNG’s recognisable style of professional theatre-making.
There were five actors who all portrayed their characters convincingly, whilst flexibly taking on other roles. Keshini Misha stood out particularly with an energetic and emotive performance as Elaine, alongside Gurkiran Kaur as Farah. Qasim Mahmood did a fantastic job making his debut stage as Tahir – with his speeches, which were projected like spoken-word poetry, a notable highlight.
The script is not verbatim, but there are certainly many accounts which have informed the dialogue between characters, causing their words to be totally believable and down-to-earth. There were many touching moments throughout the piece which aided the audience in understanding the ordeals faced by the individuals in reality. A moment in the play, for instance, saw a student who began to question her identity: “Trojan Horse had me feeling detached and questioning my faith. I couldn’t help but ask myself, am I being radicalised?” – compelling audience members to sympathise deeply, using a moment of pause to let this concept sink in.
At the time, people being questioned and put under scrutiny for their faith were treated as though being British is a status you have to earn. As one of the characters states: “I was born in Alum Rock, I’ve lived in Birmingham my whole life. What about me is not British?”. Despite the difficulties raised, the show was still lifted with humour in places – Michael Gove being described as Margaret Thatcher’s Horcrux is a favourite of mine. Perhaps he is the real Trojan Horse in this story…
Certain moments were paralleled with other news stories. A character recalled a past teacher naming a girl in a headscarf “a penguin,” which rings all too true with Boris Johnson and his disgraceful letterbox slur last year. Montages of live recorded news reports from politicians were embedded into music which was a really effective way of highlighting the intensity of their words.
Trojan Horse encourages us to think twice about what the media tells us, and to be aware not to believe in everything we hear or read. As one character put it: “If people stand in the rain long enough, they’re gonna get wet”.
I stand by the plethora of positive reviews out there for this show. It is a thought-provoking must-see.
Trojan Horse tours around the UK until November.
LUNG will be taking Trojan Horse to Parliament in January 2020, with the hope of finally passing an official definition for ‘Islamophobia’.