Introduction To The Playtext Of No Guts, No Heart, No Glory

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JOYCE MCMILLAN: INTRODUCTION TO NO GUTS, NO HEART, NO GLORY for Common Wealth, 13 October 2014.
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IT WAS Monday 18 August 2014 when I went to Sandy’s Gym in Craigmillar to see the first-ever public performance of No Guts, No Heart, No Glory.  In 35 years of Edinburgh Fringe reviewing, I had never been to Sandy’s Gym before – just as I’d never seen a show performed in an ordinary house in Wester Hailes, before I experienced Common Wealth’s extraordinary 2013 show Our Glass House, about the many faces of domestic violence.  The whole point about Common Wealth, though, is that it’s the kind of ground-breaking company that takes theatre out of its comfort zones, into places where people who often struggle to be heard can make their stories known, on their own terms; people like the young British Muslim women who, with Common Wealth, created the text of No Guts, No Heart, No Glory – now published here – and the remarkable performance we saw in Edinburgh that day.

The show went on to win a Scotsman Fringe First award later that week, and to be shortlisted for this year’s Amnesty Scotland  Freedom Of Expression Award.  Yet the week when No Guts, No Heart, No Glory opened was not only the final week of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe; it was also the sixth week of the Israeli government’s sustained attack on Gaza, and the week when the group known as Islamic State released its first video of the beheading of a western journalist in Syria, unleashing the usual calls for British Muslims to “do more” to prevent the rise of violent fundamentalism.  So when I came to write my Scotsman politics column for that week, I realised that this show was so significant, on so many levels, that I had to write about it again, in ways that could not be contained in a short theatre review. Here is a version of the column I wrote.

“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 – 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.  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 it is surely dangerous to imagine that the simmering anger that leads some young Muslims towards violence can be removed simply by changing the tone of the teaching in some British mosques.  On the contrary, that sense of anger and disaffection can only be dealt with by our society as a whole.   In the Britain of 2014, the young women whose lives are reflected in No Guts, No Heart, No Glory 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 people who might otherwise be attracted by the politics of hatred and revenge.  We need 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 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 ideal 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.”

Joyce McMillan
Theatre critic and columnist, The Scotsman
A longer version of this column was published in The Scotsman on Friday 22 August 2014.

ENDS ENDS

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