Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy

Brilliantly acted and superbly written, Bismillah! is one of the best shows I have ever seen at the Fringe or anywhere else. Matthew Greenhough’s side-splitting and touching script shows us an hour in the life of Dean (Greenough), a British Army soldier being held prisoner in an Iraqi basement guarded by ISIS mujahid “Danny” (Nate Birdi). The tone shifts dramatically moment by moment through the banal, the quietly horrifying, and the near-unbearable tension of their fight for dominance, but skilful writing means beat changes never feel clunky or unnatural.

This is a fiercely intelligent, masterfully acted theatrical treat, which prompts tears of both laughter and sympathy.

The questioning of both characters’ motives for engaging in the conflict that has led to the play is probed informatively and with great sensitivity through the course of this dazzlingly intelligent script. Greenhough has clearly researched contemporary academic views on terrorism, so much so that the character of Danny should almost come with a citation to the work of political scientist Professor Louise Richardson. That is the intellectual level on which this show is operating.

Blocking and staging nicely mirror the constantly changing status of both leads, without ever being too obvious about it. Whether it was a deliberate choice or not, the dingy stone walls of Just The Tonic’s Fancy Room are perfectly atmospheric. Both Greenhough and Birdi give naturalistic performances appropriate to a message so obviously rooted in present-day issues. Birdi borrows the style for many of Danny’s funnier moments from arguably the most famous contemporary terrorist comedy, Chris Morris’ Four Lions, but also gives the character a heartstring-tugging emotional conflict and engaging hint of naivety appropriate to the script’s overarching theme of childishness. His tiny leg twitches and eye movements are an acting masterclass and his bold delivery choices are the mark of a skilled creative artist.

This is a fiercely intelligent, masterfully acted theatrical treat, which prompts tears of both laughter and sympathy.

Reviews by Oliver Lennard

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The Blurb

Dean joined the army, Danny joined the Islamic State, this is their hour together in a basement in northern Iraq. Exploring the strange new reality of youth in modern day Britain; a play about radicalisation, disenfranchisement and the rock band Queen. This new, unique tragicomedy tackles everything from racism to fundamentalism to the rising price of a standard meal deal.