The Believers Are But Brothers

The stage is awash with cold, blue LED light. On a screen we see a screensaver suggestive of rivers of blood. On a smaller screen a young man plays shoot-‘em-up video games. In the back of our minds we already have an idea of what The Believers Are But Brothers will be like: violent, brutal and graphic. However writer and performer, Javaad Alipoor, takes this preconception, grapples with it and proceeds to expand and subvert it as he delves into the internet’s heart of darkness.

Successfully charts where we are as a society and just how we got here.

In a mixture of poetic, almost Biblical, and intellectual language Alipoor both plays and analyses the angry, young men who feel abandoned by society and find a sense of belonging online. After all, the internet allows us to connect with people faster than ever and Alipoor ingeniously draw a comparison between young men being driven to offensive message boards and forums with the UK and US governments putting all suspected terrorists in the same prison thus creating the ideal breeding ground for ISIS. It’s a beautiful and completely accessible piece of writing but at no point does Alipoor claim to have an answer to these problems, he merely wishes to ensure we understand and challenge our preconceptions.

To do this Alipoor deploys a theatrical device that I’ve never seen used before and that is, frankly, an inspired decision: sections of the show and dialogue with the audience is done over a Whatsapp group that we’re added to in the queue to the venue. This could easily be misconstrued as a gimmick but given the subject matter of Believers it makes perfect dramaturgical sense, allowing us to experience the feeling of being an individual in something greater than ourselves. Also given Amber Rudd’s obsession with shutting down end-to-end encryption like Whatsapp it’s a brilliant move that lets us understand how a tool most of us use in everyday life can be weaponised to bring radicals together.

There are several other strands to the show that add extra depth and complexity to the show, from Alipoor outlining the inherent difficulties of researching and making this show to the mysterious man behind the screen who only interacts with us anonymously via the Whatsapp group. All of these components make Believers incredibly intellectually and dramaturgically satisfying but some of the individual stories he tells of radicalised young men are sometimes cut too short as we’ve just started to engage with them.

Nevertheless this is an important show, not only providing a snapshot of areas of the internet that some would call a cesspit but others call home but also successfully charts where we are as a society and just how we got here.

Reviews by Liam Rees

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The Blurb

The old world orders are collapsing: from the postcolonial nation states of the Middle East, to the EU and the American election. Through it all, tech savvy extremist groups rip through twentieth century political certainties. Amidst this, a generation of young men find themselves burning with resentment; without the money, power and sex they think they deserve. Their crisis of masculinity leads them into an online world of fantasy, violence and reality. This bold one-man show weaves together their stories. 'A very special artist and a very strong voice' (Madani Younis, Artistic Director, Bush Theatre).