EXTREMISM is a play of – and for – our time, looking at the destructive impact of polarisation in a multi-racial society. But it offers so much more, providing the viewer with a chance to marvel at the talent of a young and vibrant cast – obviously thrilled to be participating in such a relevant play.
Set in a school class room, the play (written by Anders Lustgarten and directed by Suzann McLean) charts 45 minutes in the life of a class shaken by the sudden removal of pupil Jamal – on the advice of teacher Miss Tomlinson (neither pupil nor teacher are ever seen).
Jamal is suspected of showing signs of radicalisation by Miss Tomlinson and has been removed by police as part of Prevent, a government anti-terrorist programme that urges those in positions of trust (teacher, doctors and nurses) to report any radical behaviour.
Jamal’s removal causes a classroom earthquake and fissures the width of the River Thames to emerge as classmates point accusing fingers at each other. Divided Britain.
Jordan (a commanding Kingsley Sowole) and Suhayla (a towering and marvellous Asha Hassan) are suspected of being involved with Jamal – suppositions based on friendship and faith respectively.
The main accusers are plain speaking Darren (Marlo Rye), a belligerent Melina (Nadezhda Stoycheva) and a gobby Rachel (a delightful, feisty Nansi Love). Difficult roles, all acted quite superbly – Rye’s Darren is a young version of Alf Garnett (Till Death Us Do Part).
Chris (a super Denneil Dunbar) defends the accused and in so doing displays great wit and foresight. A rather eccentric and quirky Evan (Julien Pitchell), Kirsty (Hollie Regan), Samuel (Tyrell Weekes-Harper) and Olive (Na’eemah N’diaye) for the most part look on somewhat aghast at the boxing match taking place before them. Rather poignantly, it is Samuel – previously talking only through Olive – who attempts to bring the match to an end before it gets out of hand. An unlikely peacemaker. Brave and heroic.
Before Samuel’s intervention, it all gets rather nasty, personal and violent with Suhayla’s headscarf ripped off by a snarling Melina. Entrenched views passed down through the generations bubble to the surface. Issues based on colour, race, religion and gender – and shaming by phone – are all confronted. It makes for uncomfortable, soul searching viewing.
Playing at Theatre Peckham (London), Extremism is immersive, inclusive and important theatre. Thrillingly received by an audience (on November 7) that encircle the school room, for the most part sitting at desks. And thrillingly acted. Beforehand, the actors mingle with the audience (a lovely touch – thank you Na’eemah for our fun chat) while afterwards the theatre runs ‘conversation stations’ that allow members of the audience to talk about some of the issues raised by the play.
Director McLean describes the play as ‘vital’ and hopes it will highlight the need to ‘question stereotypes and the use of negative language surrounding identity based on race or religion’. It does. In spades.
Catch it if you can. Forty five minutes of your life well spent.
Title image by Raymond Field