Bismillah! An Isis Tragicomedy at the Underbelly Cowgate, written by Matthew Greenhough and directed by Jonny Kelly as a Wound Up Theatre production, the show features Dean (played by Greenhough himself) a leeds born British soldier in captivity and Danny (Elliot Liburd) as an IS defectant from London.
The piece begins upon entry into the space. In the middle of the room a hooded figure wearing tattered combat fatigues is tied to a pole, defiantly belting out songs by Queen. As the audience take their seats he is abruptly interrupted by the entry of an ISIS militant with food and water. Here ensues an hour of conversing, arguing, berration and revelation, all in the name of understanding each other. As this amalgamation of communication progresses, they begin to build a friendship.
The acting in Bismillah! An Isis Tragicomedy is nothing short of phenomenal. The characters are brought to life and feel absolutely genuine, both actors are a credit to their role and do justice to the severity and poignancy of the piece as well as having some nice comedic timing to alleviate tension. The writing of the piece however, in the genre of comedy, falls a little flat for me. The piece feels more like a well written political commentary with a smattering of comedy over the top, rather than as it is marketed as, a dark comedy.
In some parts the piece feels ever so slightly over directed. For example, in a very high tension moment during an argument in the piece Danny drops his whole body and Dean uses his head to push Danny’s up, a nice image for Dean taking control and gaining status perhaps but it is, for me, a little too on the nose; and considering the quality of the acting I feel this forced symbolism takes away more than it gives. As well as this the stage combat really needs to be re-thought. It doesn’t feel polished enough in its current form to be complimentary to the show.
The duo perform a painfully insightful yet wholesomely comedic analysis on the terrifying similarities between what it is to be an ISIS militant and a British soldier. The politic of the piece holds strong throughout as after the duo finish reminiscing nostalgically on a tangent down an almost mirrored memory lane, they deftly plummet the performance back to the harsh reality of their situation.
With some polished acting, a gripping storyline and character arcs that will make you laugh and cry, Bismillah! An Isis Tragicomedy is well worth a watch!