Daily Archives: August 22, 2014

No Guts, No Heart, No Glory: Hope And Increasing Social Justice Are The Best Weapons Against Ideologies Of Hate – Column 22.8.14.

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JOYCE MCMILLAN for The Scotsman 22.8.14
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IN AN OLD BOXING GYM in Craigmillar, a group of young aspiring fighters are dancing and weaving around the room, pummeling at punchbags, running the length of the floor, jumping in an out of the ring set up at one end of the space.  Yet this is no ordinary Edinburgh training session; for this group of fighters are all young Muslim women from Bradford, performers in a Fringe show, punching out their rage against all the prevailing assumptions about how they should live, and what they might want to be.

The show – called No Guts, No Heart, No Glory, and presented by the Common Wealth company from London – is one of our Scotsman Fringe First winners, in this final week of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe; not for any formal perfection, but because it makes thrilling theatre, and  gives a platform to vivid, important young voices that urgently need to be heard.  And its overwhelmingly positive message – about young British Muslim women determined to empower themselves, and to make something brilliant of their lives – forms an interesting counterpoint to the torrent of negative language and imagery that has accompanied the online appearance, this week, of the horrific video of American photographer James Foley being brutally killed in northern Syria by a masked fighter of the militant Islamic State group, who seems to speak with an English accent.

Now of course, it’s possible that this fighter does not come from a British Muslim background at all; there are white converts to Islam who choose the path of fundamentalist violence, sometimes with particular vehemence.  Yet still, James Foley’s cruel death acts as a cue for all the usual panicky coverage about the need to prevent the “radicalisation” of young British Muslims, and the usual calls to moderate Muslims in British Asian communities to “do more” to stop young people from taking this path.  The underlying assumption is that there is something that can be done – next week, or next month – to root out violent fundamentalist ideas from the British Muslim community, and to replace them with more moderate forms of teaching. Yet in truth, those who call most insistently for this kind of action are often both ill-informed about the work against violent extremism that is already being done in mosques and communities across Britain, and profoundly uninterested in the reasons why, in some cases, that work has little impact.

Britain’s public debate around issues of “radicalisation”, in other words, is inadequate at all sorts of levels, and often so poorly articulated that it risks exacerbating the very problem it is meant to address.  In the first place, in its prominence and insistence, the coverage of “British jihadis” fighting in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere is out of all proportion to their number and significance.  Nowhere have I seen a suggestion that this phenomenon involves more than a few hundred people, out of a British Asian population of around 2 million; yet the obsessive  coverage it receives often amounts to little more than scaremongering about a British Asian population which is overwhelmingly indifferent to the appeal of violent fundamentalism, and has a right to be seen as such.

Then secondly, it is plain wrong to attach the word “radicalisation” to a phenomenon which is all about the adoption of an ideology of brutal and oppressive violence.  Young people should be radical, should ask tough questions, should ask tough questions about the world’s oppressions and injustices, and should be wary of living in a society where this kind of insidious securocrat language threatens to equate all radical dissent with some kind of “terrorism”.

And thirdly, it is dangerous and even foolish to imagine that the simmering anger that leads some young Muslims towards violence – and that is shared by many who refuse that path – can be removed simply by changing the tone of the teaching in some British mosques.  Of course, incitement to violence is a crime, and should be be treated as such.  Most conversion to the politics of violence, though, takes place away from mainstream religious centres; and the sense of anger and disaffection that fuels those conversions can only be dealt with by our society as a whole, not by a single faith group.  The truth is that the young women whose lives are reflected in No Guts, No Heart, No Glory have a great deal to gain from the hard-won freedoms that British society now offers to women and girls; they have found a creative way of gaining a new voice, new confidence, and the hope of a better future.

And the task of our society, in essence, is to offer the same kind of hope to the whole generation of young Muslims – mainly young men – who might otherwise be attracted by the politics of hatred and revenge.  On my travels around the Fringe this week, I came across another play – Blood At The Root, from the Penn State Theatre School in the USA – which, in the week of the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, deals powerfully with the poltiics of racial and cultural division in the USA, and  with the truth that it is difficult for any society to ask for loyalty from citizens who see that they are not being treated as equals, and that their lives are considered of lesser value.

If Britain wants to combat the appeal of violent extremism among young Muslims, in other words, then it needs to fight this negative form of “radicalism” not with scaremongering and stereotypes, but with the positive counter-radicalism that works  tirelessly for social justice and respect, for equal economic opportunities for all, for a constant vigilance against the bigotry and discrimination that hurts and enrages those who suffer it, and for the kind of enlightened foreign policy that sows the seeds of peace.   A show like No Guts, No Heart, No Glory partly reflects a generation of  positive change in British society, for women at least.  And if we do not strive to maintain and restore that culture of ever-increasing fairness, openness and opportunity across our society as whole, then we will always risk the rage of those who feel excluded and unheard; and the violence of those who seek to exploit that anger, for their own brutal political ends.

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Raymondo

THEATRE
Raymondo
4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)

IT’S VISIBLY inspired by the world of burlesque; and there are echoes, too, of the brilliant magic-realist voice of Angela Carter. Yet  as Annie Siddons takes the stage to tell the story of Raymondo, she’s also weaving a completely original 21st century tale of inspiration, exploitation, love and death.  With long hair flowing and gorgeous basque tightly laced, Siddons shares the space with guitarist Daniel Green (playing a score by Marcus Hamblett), with her own little harmonium keyboard, and with perhaps 20 glowing table-lamps of varous sizes, all heavily shaded and fringed; the mood is late-night, dusky, sometimes erotically charged.

Yet the story Siddons tells – of her hero Raymondo and his vulnerable younger brother – is all innocence and strangeness, the tale of two boys who escape from a nightmare childhood of want and imprisonment thanks to a magical cloak of their own devising.  They wander the world finding and losing love; and finally sell their most precious creation for hard cash, only to find themselves exploited, and worked to the brink of death, by the factory-owner who now also owns their idea.

This is the kind of story, though, in which a single glimpse of love matters more than lifetime of mere survival.  And it’s written with a rich, wild and precise poetry that breathes a colossal and sometimes angry humanity, even while its style defies the representation of ordinary human life, and conjures up a world much more magical and strange, poised somewhere between reality and dream, or perhaps between life and death.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 343

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13 Sunken Years

THEATRE
13 Sunken Years
4 stars ****
Assembly Rooms   (Venue 20)

THERE ARE SO MANY things wrong with this UK premiere production of 13 Sunken Years – by Finnish playwright Paula Salminen – that it’s tempting, at first, to dismiss the whole project out of hand.  The acting is uneven, some of the staging ideas barely work, the venue is unsympathetic to Jan Bee Brown’s slightly over-elaborate set, and the play itself shudders to a sudden halt in a way that is more irritating than poised.

Yet for all that, there’s an insistent, pulsing energy in Maria Oller’s production, staged jointly by Stellar Quines and Lung Ha’s, Scotland’s company that works with adults with learning difficulties.  The play tells the story of a family of women without men, living in a small riverside town in Finland, whose lives reach a crisis on the day when the granddaughter, Eva, is about to leave school and head for university.  On that day, her mother, Helena, suddenly disappears, and her grandmother, Ursula, shows the first signs of dementia; and for the next 13 years, Eva’s life goes into suspended animation, as she cares for her grandmother, rages silently at her absent mother, and watches her schoolmates’ lives overtake hers.

Over 75 minutes Eva’s story is told through a winding narrative that nonetheless inches forward through the years; and the play is illuminated by a bold trio of central performances from the great Anne Lacey as Ursula, Louise Ludgate as a flamingly sexy Helena, and Lung Ha’s actor Nicola Tuxworth as a stubborn, vulnerable Eva.  By the end, Eva seems set to continue the family tradition of single motherhood; and if her relationship with her own possible father, touchingly played by Billy Mack, remains unresolved, there’s a sense of a tough, caring female energy moving on into the future, with or without any serious help from men.  “They have their stories, we have ours,” says Ursula; and she is not wrong.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 359

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Broke

THEATRE
Broke
4 stars ****
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

IF BRITAIN IS ENDURING a serious cost-of-living crisis – and the statistics suggest that it is – then it’s not an issue that has made much impact on this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.  One exception, though, is this passionate and thoughtful  show by Paper Birds of Leeds, playing to packed houses at the Pleasance Dome, which begins by reflecting a range of verbatim interviews with people living on low incomes, but finally homes in on just one character, a 28-year-old single mum called Sally with a son she adores, but without the means to give him the material things that our society considers “normal”.

The show’s playful, slightly nursery-like style sometimes grates against the harshness and importance of the stories being told; Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh are touching and effective in the role of Sally and several other characters, while Shane Durrant lurks under a bunk-bed with a keyboard like some irritating  children’s television presenter.

Despite these tonal dissonances though – and a venue in which large parts of the show’s visual imagery are invisible to most of the audience – there’s no resisting the passion with which this young company, dedicated to radical verbatim theatre, exposes the painful lies about poverty in this country that make the lives of people on low incomes so unbearable.  From the myth of our “generous” benefits system to the big lie that being in work means earning a living wage, Paper Birds take apart the  falsehoods which have helped drive recent changes to the social security system, every one of them helping to create a world of hidden suffering.  “I’ve seen well-dressed people opening the cans we give them and eating the food in the car park, because they’re starving,” says a woman staffing a food bank.  “Trouble is, in a country like Britain now, you can’t tell who’s hungry, just by looking at them.  Can’t tell at all.”

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 287

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