By Luisa De la Concha Montes
Peaceophobia, co-produced by Speaker’s Corner Collective, Common Wealth Theatre and Fuel Productions was conceived in Bradford in 2018. After four years in the making, and multiple delays caused by COVID-19, it made it to GDIF 2022, demonstrating that it is possible to turn community-led theatre into headlining events.
This interactive play quite literally drives the audience into a politically-charged tale about identity and community. The plot, which takes place in a multi-story car park, uses a Supra, a Golf and a classic Nova as the main props to illustrate the struggles of the three Muslim characters, Ali, Sohail and Casper.
The story is visually charged. The colourful lighting, the chromatic paint of the cars and the car park setting create a cinematic view that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it truly places the audience in the story. By inhaling the fumes of the cars, and hearing the roaring of the A12 motorway in the distance, we become embedded in what is happening. Suddenly, the phrase “freedom of movement” has a whole new meaning. The layout makes each audience member acutely aware of the personal relationship they have with public spaces, such as motorways or airports, and how those spaces are inhabited differently depending on external factors, such as race, ethnicity and nationality.
The story does not follow a chronological narrative of events. Instead, by utilising diverse didactic elements and audience interaction that ranges from magic tricks, to rap, and monologues, it manages to explore the complexity of the Muslim community in the UK. The performance naturally switches between humour, playfulness and seriousness. Even though at times some of the audience interactions feels a bit awkward, the enthusiasm of the cast always manages to break the ice, and force the audience outside of their comfort zone.
Ultimately, Peaceophobia is a story about control. It makes us reflect on how one can thrive under the illusion of freedom, but also how easily this can be taken away. Each time one of the main characters interacts with the voices from the system, such as police officers and border guards (which, quite dramatically, make abrupt interjections through the sound system), the audience becomes aware of how prejudices rooted in Islamophobia slowly chip away the character’s confidence and sense of self.
The collaborative nature of the piece serves as a stark reminder that community-oriented productions can only reach their full potential through a full exploration of multiple voices. At times, the play feels as if it is trying to say too much in too little time. And perhaps, rather than a criticism, that is one of its biggest achievements – it feels inconclusive because it is inconclusive. The core topics – British xenophobia, racism and police brutality – are too big to tackle. Therefore, if the pace feels frantic, desperate or even overwhelming it is because the matter at hand is all of those things.
The final scene, where one of the characters recites the Adhan (the Islamic call to prayer), is
the one moment where the fast pace that’s prevalent throughout the show slows down. Suddenly, the audience is not in the middle of a London car park. They are not in Bradford either. They exist in a limbo – neither here nor there – and for once, that doesn’t feel like the wrong place to be. Peaceophobia is not performative politics; it is resistance in the shape of a theatrical performance.
Peaceophobia tours through 2 October.
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