The VAULT Festival is coming to town! From January 24th to March 18th, over three hundred new shows explode across a festival of festivals in their Waterloo home. With new venues, new bars, new food and plenty of surprises, VAULT 2018 is the biggest, fairest platform in London for artists to present innovative, daring work. Here we chat to Wound Up Theatre about the themes and inspiration behind Bismillah!.
As in ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Steptoe and Son’, two men stuck together in a circumstance they feel powerless to control has long been a staple trope of comedy. It is this trope that I found some of the inspiration for Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy. It is a play about two trapped men, a British Soldier and a British Defector to IS, in a hostage situation in Northern Iraq and the dialogue that forms between them. It is a story that given the subject matter, setting and tone, I thought could perhaps be impossible to get right.
I knew what I wanted to do with Bismillah! and I certainly didn’t want to shock or outrage for the sake of it. I also didn’t want to trivialise the atrocities being carried out by Daesh, in fact, I wanted to address them directly. I wanted a play which discussed the impact of Western interventions into Middle Eastern conflict, placing a spotlight on the involvement of young British men. I knew these were controversial themes but eventually I felt, given the right approach, they could be explored and made accessible using comedy.
Early in the writing process, I found myself watching an episode of Only Fools and Horses where Rodney and Cassandra lose their baby. To get Rodney to come to terms with his grief, Del-boy traps them both in a lift. With nowhere to go, Rodney confronts the painful reality of his situation and the resulting scene is truthful, melancholic, revealing, heartbreaking and importantly – hilarious. It is a masterful piece of writing, which skillfully walks the tightrope between comedy and tragedy.
Bismillah! isn’t Only Fools and Horses, but like that scene, it traps two people together in a terrifying reality. It uses humour to examine the impact of racial, social, economic and religious politics on youth in society. VAULT festival marks a return of this story to the stage after a fringe production of the show at Edinburgh in 2015, where the project was validated with critical acclaim and was listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. The Guardian also called Bismilliah! ‘bold and thought-provoking’,
Two years later the themes of Bismillah! are as relevant as ever. We invite you to join us in week six of VAULT festival for the London premiere to experience a show that explores radicalisation, disenfranchisement, racism, working at Wetherspoons and the ever-rising price of a standard Meal Deal.
Bismillah! is performing at the Vaults Theatre as part of VAULT Festival from the 28th of Feb to the 4th of March at 21:00. Tickets and more information can be found here.