“Why is there one rule for Muslims, and another for everyone else?”
This is the question at the root of Trojan Horse, which revisits the 2014 scandal of the same name. Trojan Horse emerged when claims of an alleged conspiracy to radicalise Birmingham schoolchildren reached the city council. Although there was little evidence for extremism and the claims are now recognised as false, press and politicians alike jumped on the story, launching emergency inspections, disrupting education and eventually ending the careers of several teachers.
Trojan Horse is not set up as a traditional play. Rather than a beginning, middle and end narrative, it is done in excerpts, almost flashback-style. Characters representing the real-life figures associated with the affair deliver speeches to the audience in first person; dialogue is present, but it is used mainly to compliment these. This style is attributable to the fact that Trojan Horse was compiled from interviews, a technique that kept the play fairly even-handed.
The accounts did keep the audience hooked. There was genuine tension as the events unfolded, and the stakes were high from all angles: chair of governors Tahir faces the possibility of being banned from education; Rashid Wasi, head of modern languages at Park View school, fears being imprisoned on terrorism charges; and student Farah is overwhelmed by worries about her sexuality, exams, and her reception by mainstream British society as a Muslim.
But the tension and emotionality are not the only things keeping this play going: it is funny, well-paced, and definitely entertaining. The areas I found comparatively less stunning were still by no means bad: the acting was good, and the set minimalistic but perfectly all right.
But even in the areas in which the play itself didn’t blow me out of the water, the Q&A did. The panel seems to change with each show, but in my case involved academic Dr. Elshayyal, whose research centres around British Muslims; a representative from anti-Islamophobia organisation MEND; and two of the teachers at the heard of the Trojan Horse scandal, whose stories had just been told onstage. The opportunity for direct conversation with them ultimately highlights the real strength of the production: its evident desire and ability to spark dialogue.
Trojan Horse runs at the Traverse Theatre until 12 February 2020.