It is perhaps inevitable that a Muslim and Jewish theatre company putting on a comedy sketch show at the Tricycle Theatre would make light of a 2014 debacle, in which the Tricycle boycotted the annual UK Jewish Film Festival because it was partly funded by the Israeli government, and therefore could be construed as a political event. The irony was not lost that the Tricycle receives a portion of its income from Arts Council England – a public body. The Tricycle eventually reversed the decision, but the damage to community relations had been done. Come In! Sit Down! is right to tackle the situation head on. To send up what happened is quite striking, and serves as a reminder that whatever stressful circumstances we may find ourselves in, the old adage, ‘We will all laugh at this one day’, often rings true.
The musical theatre fan in me enjoyed the nods to Fiddler on the Roof (“If I were an imam…”) and The Lion King’s ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight?’ The latter is taken from a musical considered by some to have borderline racist undertones (the hyenas are segregated, y’see) so to have it in a show partially about, um, borderline racist undertones was, for me, a shrewd move. Also of note was Dominic Garfield’s portrayal of Russell Brand, and Lauren Silver in the role of a Jewish matchmaker (yep, another illusion to Fiddler on the Roof), breaking the fourth wall in search of a kosher bachelor for her daughter.
The production is not without its cringeworthy moments – the point about not all Muslims being terrorists, I think, was slightly overcooked for a knowledgeable London theatre audience. Not all the sketches are entirely original, either: when Salman Siddiqui’s suburban Muslim citizen hears a police siren, he puts his book down, rearranges the front room and promptly lies on the floor, face down with his hands behind his back, before the police even break down the front door. It is not dissimilar to an episode of the television sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Will Smith puts himself up for arrest before a police officer has even established that an arrestable offence has been committed, such is the apparent prejudice (or ‘institutional racism’) of the police.
The overarching punchline comes at the very end – “There is more that unites us than divides us” – a point wonderfully demonstrated in Silver’s final matchmaker sketch, in which she laments her Jewish daughter being betrothed to a Muslim man. But he’s circumcised, prays to God and is hated by UKIP. That is, he ticks all the boxes.
The cast is supported well by composer and musical director Chris Cookson, the self-confessed token atheist in the company, who is more involved in the on-stage action than one would ordinarily expect from an MD. But what strikes most me about The MUJU Crew in this production is their boldness. Different members of the audience will find different aspects amusing, and there are enough different sketches set in various places around the world for there to be a hearty laugh for pretty much everyone. But, as I say, it’s their fearlessness and boldness that shines brightest even above the humour. Amina Zia’s Muslim housewife, with four husbands, almost (metaphorically!) raises a middle finger up at Judeo-Christian monogamy, while other sketches play on the mainstream media’s portrayal of people who practise religion.
The sheer number of sketches leaves very little time to set up each scene, but I understood setting and situation each and every time. Further, this show has, despite going out of its way to avoid articulating swear words, even using bleeping on one occasion, a certain level of shockability. This is not to say it is offensive – indeed, one sketch skilfully highlights the absurd nature of what some people claim to have been offended by – but rather it is theatre that is both challenging and comical… and that is not easy to achieve.
Review by Chris Omaweng
For its tenth anniversary, Muslim and Jewish theatre company, the MUJU Crew, presents Come In! Sit Down!, its first main stage co-production at their long-term home, the Tricycle Theatre.
Filling the gap where hysteria and humanity meet, the award-winning MUJU Crew’s work has been a consistent, and very funny counterpoint to the rise in Islamaphobia and Anti-Semitism. Enter a world where terrorists are de-radicalised through yoga and Brent Cross has its own brand new security check-point. Confess your secret desires with our Imam-Rabbi rap duo, and take tea with Fatima and her four husbands. An evening of fun and laughter with your favourite jihadist, settler, and everything in between (including a few normal Muslims and Jews just trying to get on with life amidst chaos and crisis!). From unlikely sources genuine truths are exposed through sketches, hilarious songs and live music.
Featuring songs written with Chris Cookson and Dave Cohen (BAFTA Award-winning Horrible Histories), Come In! Sit Down! combines MUJU’s trademark cheeky dose of crucial conversations from home and abroad.
Andrea Tuijten, Creative Producer of MUJU said: “MUJU is about bringing Muslims, Jews and wider society together through creating theatre, comedy and new writing. It’s about being brave and honest in coming together to laugh, create, celebrate and explore the ‘elephants in the room’ together through comedy. Laughing allows you to breathe, tear-up, recognise and subvert stereotypical truths taken for granted and expose fresh perspectives.”
Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre said: “MUJU began life at the Tricycle Theatre in 2004 as a youth theatre group. Ten years on it is stronger than ever, using humour and creativity to tackle important issues such as identity and youth culture and establishing artistic collaborations that bring communities together. We’re delighted the company is marking its tenth anniversary with this funny, bold and brave new show on our main stage.”
Cast includes: Ramzi DeHani, Stevie Basuala, Amina Zia, Daniella Isaacs, Dominic Garfield, Salman Siddiqui and Lauren Silver.
Co-Directors: Salman Siddiqui and Josh Azouz
Produced by Andrea Tuijten
Musical Director Chris Cookson
The MUJU Crew: Come In! Sit Down!
Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR
Web/Tel: http://www.tricycle.co.uk / 020 7328 1000
Dates: Mon 27 Jul – Sun 2 Aug, 2015 at 7.30pm & Sun matinee 2 Aug at 3pm (excluding Friday)
Duration: 1 hour
Post show Q&As: Thu 30 July and Sat 1 August
Twitter: @MujuCrew #ComeInSitDown
Wednesday 29th July 2015