Bismillah! An ISIS tragicomedy, written by Matthew Greenhough, directed by Johnny Kelly and performed by Greenhough himself and Elliot Liburd, promises to be a risky play. It sets out to tackle many of the most burning and politically sensitive questions of our day, focusing on violence, extremism, discrimination, economic imbalances, personal insecurities and their consequences.
The story is about two men, Dean and Ameen, who both used to work twelve-hour shifts at Wetherspoons, feeling trapped, exhausted and invisible. They both wanted to break free and they both thought they did. Dean, a Leeds lad, escaped to the army, and Danny, a London boy of Arab descent, to Islamic State. When Dean is held hostage in the basement of an IS camp in Baghdad, his life is in Danny’s hands. But the men cannot escape facing that human compassion is stronger than the clashes of identities, even if most times it seems like the latter will prevail.
Bismillah! is truly brilliant, covering complex and challenging material in a mere hour of performance. Greenhough and Librud’s characters delve into the tense political climate surrounding the wars in the Middle East, on the divide between ‘us and them’, the damaging psychology of warfare and the fragility of identity.
The ‘tragicomedy’ is to be taken literally. The humour is smoothly embedded in the extreme tension that follows throughout the play. The jokes result from inevitable misunderstandings and life anecdotes shared between the two. But this is the perfect way to further highlight the tragedy and absurdity of the situation. Greenhough and Liburd demonstrate bravura, bringing two genuine, insecure and flawed young men to life, who form a genuine bond throughout the show.
All in all, it is rare to see a show choosing to walk on thin ice leaving the crowd unoffended and in awe. The audience will leave with new perspectives, and difficult questions to face.
Bismillah! An Isis Tragicomedy
Runs 3-11 and 13-25 August
The Underbelly, Cowgate – Belly Button (Venue 61)
Image: Hannah Knox