Bin Laden, The One Man Show begins by disarming us. We’ve come to a show about Bin Laden, and that’s what we expect. Everything that Knaive Theatre does, from the moment we step inside the space, is about ensuring we are comfortable. Of course, we’re a little confused now, because this was supposed to be a show about Bin Laden, and now there’s a blond haired white man offering us tea and biscuits. The whole things feels extremely British.
After being handed tea and biscuits I was waiting for the show to start. Armed with flipchart paper and a book on how to change the world in six steps, Sam Redway begins to talk about his life, in a way that can only be described as a sermon masquerading as a show.
I was rather confused for half of the piece as I wasn’t sure if Redway was Bin Laden, or if he was a man telling us about Bin Laden. Dressed in a suit and charmingly passing out cups of tea, it comes as no surprise that upon learning he was Bin Laden, we were more than confused. To anyone that will surely bring up colourblind casting, I respond with no. This was not an instance of colourblind casting and even if it were, I’d tell you that it was wrong in doing so (see colour brave casting as an alternative and how colorblind casting is racist).
While the writing and storytelling was impressive, the ‘history’ part was not. It became very apparant (and not just for the obvious reasons) that this was a white man writing about Bin Laden. What we got, was a whitewashed colonial version of events. The reason Redway gives for Bin Laden’s ‘acts of terror‘ was him losing his family and therefore his mind, which is rather reductive I think. I kept wondering why him? Why now? If in Redway’s place there was a South Asian man, similarly dressed in a suit and a beard would we be sitting in theatre seats holding onto tickets, or would M15 have shut this down. I understand the appeal of having a charming white man tell you about ‘the monster’ but what was he actually adding? Maybe it gave him the ability to talk to people without being shut down. Maybe it was gimmick to sell shows. But nowhere in the piece, nowhere in the show was there any acknowledgment or justification of why a white man was playing a brown terrorist on stage. If the point was to make people listen and make Bin Laden more ‘human’ (whatever that means) then the point was sorely lost. If anything, we hate Bin Laden for giving into his ‘male and aggressive nature’ for that becomes the ‘reason’ for his terrorism.
Redway purposefully left out the number of people that had died and brushed over huge events like 9/11 (reducing it to a crude drawing of the two towers on flipchart papers, which he then flipped over to show they had disappeared) and I’m still not sure what the point was. While watching this show, I kept momentarily also watching the door, are they going to stop him now? Will this cruel joke end anytime soon?
At one point I did question if this was the first step to me becoming radicalised. For that Redway does have a knack, giving us the tools to sympathise (albeit temporarily) with Bin Laden. Except what he subtely does (and I almost missed this) is laugh at Bin Laden and his reasons for why he did what he did. I am in no way condoning Bin Laden’s behaviour. But it did seem that Redway, by focussing on issues like the struggles in Palestine and Afghanistan only to reduce Bin Laden’s motives to family trouble, was laughing at those struggles.
The show reminded me of countless history lessons where my teachers would dress up as a character and we would get to grill them about their life. Redway can write and he can perform. But as someone who has grown up Muslim, and had words like terrorist thrown at me for simply existing, did I find a show where a white man pretended to be a muslim terrorist entertaining? No. I found it crude and rather boring, not to mention uncomfortable (and not for the right reasons).
As an experiment, I would urge Redway and the rest of Knaive Theatre to look at the possibility of a South Asian Man (or a non-white man) perfoming. I wonder how the show would be received. Would we still be giving 5 star reviews to what in essence is a badly researched history lesson? Or would we be ringing up the security services?
Bin Laden, The One Man Show played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.