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Review of Red Zone Theatre’s September 11th

Red Zone TheatreThere are, as a college friend pointed out to me a few months after ‘9/11’, atrocities committed in certain parts of the world alarmingly regularly, “but do we know the dates when those people were killed?” September 11th looks at what has changed in Iraq, and by extension in neighbouring countries, where, following the events in New York City on that date in 2001. Some of the traditions and rituals that take place in the show are somewhat unfamiliar to Western audiences, thus a post-show talk with the show’s director, Kuhel Khalid proved most insightful (there’s one every night during this short London run).

The more the play made sense to me – and it took some considerable thought before I fully grasped its messages – the more harrowing it became. The characters are not named, nor do they speak very much, except to pray, or, as happened in just the one scene, to read out a declaration from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), spouting their usual rhetoric about invoking a very extreme and fundamentalist version of Islam that aims to annihilate anyone who disagrees with any aspect of it. In the old adage, a picture paints a thousand words, and in what is sometimes a very physical piece of theatre, the performers will sometimes have very sudden and unexpected movements.

The choreography is astonishing, with various fight scenes compelling and provocative. A man studiously sweeps the floor in such a way that leaves other characters terrified or horrified (or perhaps both) – it only becomes clear in the final moments of the play what exactly it is that’s being swept away. In another scene, a man is force-fed, presumably by ISIL, and there are other examples of how afraid people generally are in that part of the world. No one can be trusted, seemingly not even close friends and relatives.

The psychological impact over time on the populace is evident; gradually, less and less of their behaviour and conduct could be reasonably considered normal, or civilised. However open-minded or considerate of cultural conventions anyone in the audience could choose to be, the treatment of women in the play is, for the most part, grossly unfair. There is some relief when one female character manages to get her own back on a member of ISIL, though even this is hardly a cause for celebration: what came across very strongly was that a killer is a killer is a killer, whether Western soldier, ISIL member or local civilian. In portraying such an unpalatable portrait of daily life in Iraq the play suggests, without being preachy, that all this death and destruction is not indicative of a civilised society.

For all of the clashes and skirmishes, the most disturbing point for me was when a character suddenly fell. There he was, going about his business, and then he was gone, presumably dead having been shot from a distance. Still another character wants to have sexual relations with anything that moves, with varying degrees of success – let’s just say he finally gets his comeuppance.

At the rear of the stage, a large painting being completed whilst the play was in progress, of the Twin Towers ablaze, proved periodically interesting whenever the action slowed down – a deliberate artistic decision, it seemed to me, to subtly move the focus to the painting every so often to indicate a sort of ‘before’ and ‘after’ contrast. It was indeed, according to this production, the day the world changed – and not for the better.

It’s certainly worth a shot, as it were, if you like to see something different and challenging, and from another perspective. Enough sense can be made of it by simply continuing to watch and pay attention: in this one regard, at least, September 11th is not that far removed from a Western play with dozens of pages of dialogue. A curious and fascinating production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Fear. Paranoia. Vulnerability. Iraqi fugitive Kuhel Khalid invites you to discover a patchwork of his memories from Iraq, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and how his sense of self, was suddenly subverted by a new Western stigma: terrorist.

From the streets of Baghdad to a London Stage, experience a perspective rarely given voice to, through a physical performance dealing with issues of Arab Identity in the World  today.

“Who are we? Who can we trust? Are things really as they seem?”
This controversial, raw play looks to challenge our assumptions about who and what a terrorist is, and how such people are created. It explores the complex relationship between terrorism and government agencies, a constant and chaotic collaboration which has resulted in the death, suffering, and displacement of millions of people around the world.

Performed by a multicultural cast of new migrants and refugees, expect this highly visual play to surprise you, shock you, confuse you and leave you with more questions than you had before.

Red Zone Theatre
Kuhel Khalid (Director)
Esra Ugurlu (The Servant)
Durassie Amadu (The Rebel)
Ali Abu Al Timen (The Sweeper)
Lorriane Maiza Monteiro (The Mother)
Fadi Arinevi (The Dicatator)
Abdullah Abu Idrees (The Loner)
Auws Al-Gaboury (The Security Guard)
Isa Shaw-Abulafia (The Painter)
Donna Sherifi (The Singer)

Red Zone Theatre
Camden People’s Theatre for three nights 15 – 17 of February 2017 at 9pm :
https://www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/september-11/

Two nights at the Cockpit Theatre 20 – 21 of February 2017 at 7:30pm:
http://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/september_11th

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