If I wasn’t useless at gambling I’d wager that the introduction to Bismillah! is the most interesting opening of a show ever seen in the Live Theatre. Intense, humorous, and shocking, Bismillah! sets its’ intention by combining the dismantling of a tied-up, hooded, soldier with the soundtrack of Queen’s Greatest Hits. It’s obvious that a point is being made that war is bad, but surely no one’s also suggesting that listening to Queen is akin to torture?
Set inside a mid-2000 Isis war zone, Bismillah! is the heart-breaking, darkly comedic, exploration of how two working class Brits from inner-city areas are systemically broken by modern Britain, effortlessly radicalised, and, ultimately, left alone to manage the fallout from their decisions.
Avoiding easy creative decisions, the beauty of Matthew Greenhough’s writing is its presentation of the two characters as young men who could be taken from almost any street in the UK. Fighting on different sides, ‘Danny’ (Isis) and Dean (allies) are part lovable rouges, part dreamers, but both utterly uninspired by modern life through circumstance (minimum wage work, zero hour contracts) and its tokenism of dumbed down, unrealistic, X Box violence. Choosing not to portray either side as the hero or the villain, the power of Bismillah! comes through Greenhough’s suggestion that each man is lost and searching for hope in a world which promised so much but delivered so little.
Glimmers of hope are made available throughout the play created, cleverly, in the moments when the men find similarities; one such moment suggesting that often the young enrol in the military out of economic necessity, the other proposing that the reasons for signing up are dangerously identical on both sides. Both points are vital in the shows ultimate conclusions about wasted lives, doomed British youth, and the destructive power of society when making it’s worst assumptions about youngsters with little future.
Bismilliah! is a stunning piece of writing, supported through excellent, multi-personality, acting and a combination of comedy and tragedy. I’ll keep reflecting on my feelings towards the music of Queen.