When faced with seemingly insurmountable threats, opposition, and intimidation, what does one do? Especially when young and finding one’s feet in the world? In this thought-provoking, poignant, and terrific production, a group of young actors from Tower Hamlets schools portray seven young Muslim students from Whitechapel who are rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s most English play – Henry V – with their own funds and initiative. When they book an expensive external venue for their performance which coincides with the infamous ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ letters arriving through their communities’ doors, the group tackle their fears, uncertainty, and reactions in this increasingly fractured country through honesty, humour, and some Shakespearian ghosts.
The Fringe has always been a place for young and amateur performers to find audiences, and these young women shine. The programme states that sixteen students between the ages of 13-17 were responsible for the creation of Cry God for Harry, England, and St George!, working both onstage as actors and behind the scenes as technicians, production assistants, film makers, and caterers. Nothing can be faulted on the technical or performance sides; the seven women on stage are clearly deeply invested in their material and are unafraid to go alternately very dark and very silly – choices that make their show stand out among other topical shows this Fringe. Their heart and involvement is further evidenced by a celebratory whoop after the bows.
Cry God for Harry, England, and St George! tackles identity, heritage (both artistic and national), community, and courage in the face of anonymous opposition head on, but without any exaggeration or over-emphasis on the themes: the characters’ quirks, habits, and passions take centre stage. The threats facing these teenagers are real and the show does not flinch away from these; that said, each of the characters are more than the identities ascribed to them by the British media – they are social media influencers, K-Pop fans, bookworms, and aspiring directors. Some wear headscarfs, others do not. Some are very keen on Shakespeare and performance and others are just at rehearsals to help their friends. The performers’ commitment keeps the stakes high while also letting the audience enjoy the lighter elements of their student lives.
The show’s forty-five minutes tick by all too quickly to a genuinely moving finale, and while Mulberry Theatre’s fringe run is now complete one hopes that Cry God for Harry, England and St George! finds more and bigger venues – just like the play-within-a-play does – in the coming months.
Cry God for Harry, England and St George! had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe, playing until 11th August at TheSpace @ Surgeons Hall. While the show is now closed at the Fringe, the company’s history of high quality premiers and four previous Edinburgh Fringe appearances marks them as one to watch. Follow Mulberry Theatre Company (on Twitter at @MulberryTheatre) for updates on this and other future productions.
Naya – Ruwsan Adbulmajeed
Zaynab – Sumaya Begum
Kushi – Jubeda Salam
Nush – Nadia Ali
Ani – Thamanna Begum
Mina – Samia Chowdhury
Iman – Shahana Rahman
Sayara – Sumaiyah Rahim
Production Assistants: Nazifa Sumaya, Maesha Ali
Film Makers: Habiba Islam, Rukba Ahmed, Shane Doorbejan
Caterers: Diyanah Islam, Diya Khaniz, Rita Begum
Director: Sam Maynard
Designer: Emily Bestow
Production Manager: Chris Stone
General Manager: Afsana Begum
Choreographer: Sophie Smyth
Head Chef: Sharon Woods
Executive Producers: Dr Vanessa Ogden, Jill Tuffee