LUNG theatre have an incredible capacity to make verbatim sound like it’s not verbatim at all. I sometimes find verbatim shows hard to grasp – shows which directly take words out of people’s mouths and put them in other mouths. Sometimes the words sound stale on their tongues, forged from another throat and placed in a different oesophagus that isn’t quite the right shape. But Matt Woodhead doesn’t let this happen in Trojan Horse. The movements are slick, rehearsed, and very Frantic Assembly.
Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead created a script from over 200 interviews with people involved in the Trojan Horse inquiry in Birmingham schools. The 2014 inquiry highlighted the institutional racism towards Muslim communities in both Westminster and our neighbours’ back gardens. The production is excellent – it is well structured, confidently performed, and wears its politics on its sleeve. In past verbatim shows (such as My Country at the National Theatre last year), directors and scriptwriters have verged on the apolitical. In showing a spectrum of voices, it erased the central political debate. LUNG are forceful with which side they’re taking; their anger and passion float to the surface in a tender retelling of the events.
The company of actors spin around the stage in school uniforms that transform into politicians’ suits in the way students so often must turn quickly into adults, and teachers were forced into being witnesses and criminals. The injustice of the system singes on the edges of the show, creeping into to each life it touches. Racism does not always look like Nigel Farage’s Brexit banners. Sometimes it looks like a headteacher who feels her community changing, and is failing to do her job. It sits in the corners, in the governmental employees who are looking for an excuse to stereotype. Woodhead and Monks delicately weave in a queer narrative too – a young girl in one of the schools looks for solace in her partner, and in telling her teacher about her sexuality. Ashna Rabheru does a wonderful job of carrying this gentle and lovely subplot, allowing her character to be seen and feel heard. Those working against the teachers in the Trojan Horse trial (namely the Conservative government), “decide to care about gay rights when they can use it as a weapon”. As the sub-plot and overriding narrative come together, LUNG reveal how the Conservative government chooses when it wants to care about you. It weaves different intersecting oppressions into each other, allowing a picture of neglect and bigotry in the Houses of Commons to form in front of us.
Trojan Horse does not feel like a fringe show. Writing a review feels like it should be a continuation of the show; it should reflect and respond in a way that feels true. I know I can never write a review in the Edinburgh Fringe deadlines that has the same analytical perfection and polish that Trojan Horse manages to maintain. Everything is right there, in the show. Trojan Horse will do very well. LUNG have used their popularity and their flair to create a show that actually says something true and important. It does not rest on its laurels. It does not dwell on making the audience feel comfortable. It knows that it will have a majority white audience because that’s the fringe and that is theatre. It does not let them settle. That is why it triumphs. It is a show that on its surface is mainstream, passive, palatable, whereas in fact it is loud, sensitive, challenging, important. It does not shy away from issues of sexuality, of the cloudy grey area that occupies so many court cases that get media attention, and it does not shy away from the fact that this is far from over.
Trojan Horse is on at Summerhall until 26th August. More info here.