Wednesday, 28 March 2012


28/3/12, National (Lyttelton). A mix of verbatim theatre and dance by DV8 arguing that our liberal, multicultural society has failed to stand up to threat posed by murderous Islamic extremisms for fear of offence and accusations of racism. Performed by a ten strong cast of actor-dancers, themselves thoroughly multinational and multicultural, who spoke the words (with the aid of head mics) while moving, dancing, gyrating, sometimes repetitively, often distractingly, once or twice amusingly.

There were also moments of pure dance (or at any rate movement): I remember one scene in which half a dozen dancers ran to and fro diagonally across the stage, forming and reforming small groups who stared warily at one another before dashing off again. There were TV news reports (authentic pictures, commentary revoiced). And there was a soundtrack of recorded rants and observations, mostly revoiced though the most memorable was the audio from a Newsnight discussion chaired by Paxman between a spokesman for fundamentalist Islam (a man who'd like to bring the caliphate to Britain) and a lapsed extremist.

From time to dates, names and statistics would be chalked up graffiti-like. And there was an effective scene in which performers stood facing us intoning the names of moderate Muslims in Europe and Pakistan who'd been murdered for their views, each one marked by a photograph which the performer held in front of them, facing us, letting it fall to the floor with each name, so revealing the next victim.

Less effective were two attempts to break the fourth wall. One was at the very beginning, when a performer comes on and asks: "Who here feels morally superior to the Taliban?" and then shows why many more of us were wrong not to put our hands up by reciting a litany of outrageous Taliban acts (I felt it came too early, right at the start, when we we weren't sure of the rules of the game -- many of us sat, literally or metaphorically, on our hands because we weren't sure about the extent to which this was a real or a rhetorical question. Though maybe
that was the point). The other came two-thirds of the way through in a section devoted to Jasvinder Sanghera and her campaign against forced marriages, when a man near the front suddenly stood up, shouted "the is Islamophobic shit," threw some "turds" onto the stage and walked out.

Piling up the case histories like this is compelling: from Ray Honeyford, the Bradford head teacher hounded in the 1980s for suggesting that, in school at any rate, Asian children should be encouraged to integrate into British society (not least so they stood a better chance of succeeding in it); through Salman Rushdie (passing references only, so well known is the case); Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali; the Danish cartoons; Channel 4's Despatches expose of extremist preachers, Undercover Mosque, for which West Midlands Police initially tried to blame the programme (until Ofcom came to its rescue, cleared it of all blame, and the programme-makers won libel damages from the police); etc etc. There was one example I wasn't familiar with: Dr Usama Hasan, an imam and IT lecturer at Middlesex University, who wrote a piece arguing that Darwinian evolution is compatible with the Koran and was persecuted (and banned from preaching) after a Saudi sage declared he was wrong. Does this mean that all Muslim imams believe evolution is a fraud? Or that most have the good sense to keep quiet? Either way a disturbing discovery.

The piece explicitly posed the question of how a liberal, tolerant society devoted to freedom of speech should respond to illiberal intolerance, to people who who would destroy that society entirely and replace it with something utterly intolerant and who, in the meantime, demand a respect for their views which we don't accord to others' views (but then the "others" mostly don't threaten to kill us if we don't do what they want) and try to impose their values on the rest of us.

It also revealed why we so often accept a minority's arguably outrageous views: because we're afraid of being branded racist, one of the worst insults you can throw at a liberal.

I wasn't sure how staging the argument in this way helps, beyond concentrating the minds of those in the audience on a particular night. I'm also slightly wary, as always when faced with a powerful piece of polemic, about being swept up by it and losing sight of the subtelties and complexities of the situation. Nor did the piece suggest a solution, beyond standing up for what we believe and not letting the intolerant, extremist bullies win; which was at least what the cast and crew of this were doing.

Conceived and directed by Lloyd Newson, who I think is DV8's founder.

Only one scene prompted applause: the former Labour MP Anne Cryer talking about her campaign on behalf of her constituents against forced marriage. Was the applause for the sweet no-nonsense reasonableness of her arguments, delivered in a soft northern accent? Or the elegance with which she was twisted and turned by a male dancer, on whose head at one point she rested her teacup? I thought the former (it was the only moment at which I actually felt moved); A thought the latter.

Afterwards we bought a drink and talked about it animatedly (not something we're minded to do after everything we see, and one advantage of a piece that runs just 80 minutes). Many of the cast came round to the bar (it was the last night); A asked two of them if they'd received any threats and they said they hadn't, though they couldn't speak for the management, and suggested the event took place in a rarefied arts world of which few extremists would be likely to take much notice.

Reviews here. Left and right unite in applauding; but Billington in the Guardian is right to point out that claiming there is a conspiracy of silence not to criticise militant Islam is patently false, as both this piece and the many well-known cases cited demonstrate. The Whingers liken it to London Road with dance but without the hanging baskets, which is sport on in terms of form:

And here's a Guardian interview with Newson. "State multiculturalism has, Newson argues, inadvertently led to a cultural relativism, which leads to a toleration of intolerant positions on women's rights, gay rights and other liberal progressive issues":

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