Bismallah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, VAULT Festival

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by Maeve Ryan

Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy is a consummate two-hander played out entirely in one location: a cell in Iraq, which houses an ‘infidel’ British soldier held by Islamic State. The twist is that the captor in the story is also English, or, as the character says, ‘born in England’. Tension is sustained by the captor/hostage dynamic and the sense of very real violence.

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Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery

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by guest critic Maeve Campbell

The performance begins on entering the Saatchi Gallery, and we are asked to fill out questionnaires on preferences of social action. These are then used to tailor our experiences of the performance. We are led into a clinical waiting room, briefed and provided with balaclavas and protest signs. From there we are taken on a journey through Pussy Riot’s experience of the Russian judicial system and labour camps they were subjected to after they stormed Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow in 2012.

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Thebes Land, Arcola Theatre

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A playwright wants to write a play about patricide, but with an actual criminal onstage instead of an actor. Initial research leads him to a young man called Martin Santos, serving consecutive life sentences in Belmarsh for killing his father. As weeks pass and the two men get to know each other, stereotypes and expectations are upended in this moving story of masculinity, violence and theatre.

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The Listening Room, Stratford East

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Can violent criminals be rehabilitated, and can their victims ever forgive them? The Listening Room says yes.

This verbatim piece tells the stories of three violent crimes, primarily from the perspective of the perpetrators. Some character background sets the scene for climactic moments where they commit their offences, but at least half of each of the five characters’ stories spotlights the rehabilitation process and mediation between the assailants and their victims.

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Heather, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Harry receives a children’s book manuscript from an unknown writer, Heather Eames. Impressed, he wants to discuss an advance, rights and making her book the Next Big Thing, but Heather’s based outside of London, heavily pregnant and ill. It doesn’t really matter that they can’t meet in person, so they move forward with negotiating. Three books, several films and endless merchandise later, the public are desperate to meet this mysterious author. But she still refuses to meet her publisher or her fans. Harry pushes and pushes until the truth is revealed.

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The Enchanted, Bunker Theatre

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York and Arden are two men on America’s death row waiting to die. An investigator, known to the prisoners as The Lady, works night and day to save their lives. The similarly unnamed chaplain does the same to save their souls. As the two piece together the pasts of the men about to meet their deaths, a physical theatre ensemble and extracts from Rene Denfeld’s poetic novel The Enchanted creates a dreamlike, romanticised view of poverty-stricken rural America and the killers it breeds.

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The Monkey, Theatre 503

The Monkey - Theatre 503, George Whitehead and Morgan Watkins, photos by Simon Annand 2

Tel and Dal are two Sarf London geezas who grew up together on a Bermondsey estate. Dapper and ambitious Tel has moved up in the criminal underworld, away from Dal’s small-scale thieving so they don’t see each other much. Dal’s less aspirational, still robbing people on the street with his mate Becks. When they’re not out working, Dal and Becks get their drugs from young dealer Al, who lives upstairs. Life’s ticking along as normal until Tel shows up unannounced looking for the money he leant to Al a month ago. Tel’s volatile temperament, sharp intelligence and vanity mean the other three are no match for the increasing danger.

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