Bismillah! begins before it even begins – Queen songs are playing. A soldier is held captive, attached to a pole in the middle of the room, a black cap over his head. The audience take their seats but strangely, nobody seems to take a second look at the soldier moving to the music. “I want to break free” starts playing. The music stops and the soldier starts singing.
Is it a lament, is he delirious?
Enter, a guard from the Islamic State, Danny (Elliot Liburd) wielding his gun, trying to get a sense of power. What follows is the unlikely bonding of Dean (Matthew Greenhough), a lad from Leeds, who joined the army in the hope of finding purpose in his life and Danny, a radicalised Londoner who left his “liberal” family to fight for his ideals.
There are on both sides of a war yet they unite over past experiences in their native England. Both men are sensitive, scared and well over their head in this Iraqi war basement. Anything can happen as Dean desperately pushes his captor to share and bond with him. Danny, on the other hand, is desperate for approval, even if it’s from a prisoner. It looks like both men could have had the same choices to make, yet we are gently reminded that Danny, being part of a minority, will never quite have the same chances or sense of belonging to England. There are always two sides to every story.
Greenhough starts singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody “Bismillah! We will not let you go – let him go, Bismillah! We will not let you go”, which is cleverly used. Bismillah! touches upon pressing issues such as racism, and challenges stereotypes with humour during this heated and volatile discussion between both men. Both Liburd and Greenhough impressively manage to keep the energy up during the entire show, one that is reflective of a generation who is as lost as they are longing for direction.
The set is minimal and easily transports the audience to Iraq. There is a real sense of fear in the bare room and the chemistry between both actors is electrifying. They take the audience from a shouting match to the touching sharing of past memories. Could they have gone further? Maybe, but speaking up and being able to bring humour to sensitive subjects such as terrorism is already to be applauded and a timely reminder of what theatre is supposed to be.
Bismillah! plays at The Pleasance Theatre until May 13th.