Henry Naylor’s play provides a somewhat distressing insight into the British psyche, and exactly what it means to be ‘on the right side.’ Tasked with the mission of writing an article slamming the proposed return of Jihadi bride Shamima Begum, journalist Carter’s (Caitlin Thorburn) journey could not have been any more difficult or thought-provoking. Indeed Naylor’s play works its way into your mind, meaning you leave the venue with a tragic loss of faith in the human spirit.
In turning to Captain Kane (Henry Naylor), who ran a prison in Iraq during the war, for a statement on Shamima, Carter seems to have found the angry, bereaved islamophobe she needs for her article. Time will tell that this could not have been further from the truth. Naylor has developed an affinity for the self-written role: his shame, anger and confusion take the audience through the complete tale of his chaotic life-journey.
Kane, who faced trial for atrocities in the prison he once ran, questions Carter – the stoker of the nation’s disgust for the IS bride, as their roles reverse. Kane eventually concludes that the war on terror is no more than the war between ‘‘humanity and inhumanity’’. In refusing to condemn schoolgirl Shamima, Kane announces he is ‘‘on the side of humanity’’. This statement of belief in the justice system and international law, however logical, was all too chilling when combined with his shame in admitting so.
The play’s power lies is in its simplicity. Just two actors on stage for the full hour. Clever quirks include the constant focus on headlines and leads, which see Carter announce the textual format of her words as she says it.
Headless and limbless mannikins represent background characters, reminding the audience just how easy it is to treat others as if they are not fully human.
Carter’s transformation towards wanting to write an article on how ‘‘Shamima shames us all’’ in sympathy for the teenager, is heartening but simultaneously shocking. Thorburn’s panic, tears and unease remind us all of just how important the case of Shamima Begum is, a snapshot of Britain in 2019.
Naylor’s play is well worth seeing, not least for the fact that it will change the way you view the role of journalists and make you question even further the niceties of Sajid Javid’s decision to abandon a British citizen earlier this year.
The Gilded Balloon, Teviot Dining Room (Venue 14)
Runs 4-26 August (excluding 14th)
Get tickets here
Image: Gilded Balloon