The Believers Are But Brothers

Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers is an incredibly complex show that delves into the world of disenfranchised men, especially young Muslims.  He stands at a microphone and tells the stories of three men, two in the UK, one in the US.  He engages with the audience and discusses the reality of global politics; the decisions we and our governments are taking that will have consequences within the play and in our wider lives.  He sits in front of a very large video screen, on which he projects news clips (George Bush after 9/11, a girl caught up in a Syrian bomb, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan), ISIS videos, and computer games (WoW and COD).  Behind the screen sits an unnamed man who plays these games, and perhaps is sending some of the texts we receive.  For throughout the performance we are asked to keep our mobiles on WhatsApp; we receive questions, we can comment and we receive others’ comments some of which are immediately distasteful; could be an audience member, but then again it’s unlikely.

Something happens when you encourage your audience to engage with your show in real time on WhatsApp.  The closed group means you are aware of everyone who is messaging.  But extraneous messages still appear.  Is it the shadowy gamer behind the projection screen?  If someone chooses to check their Facebook, are they opting out in the same way as we choose to ignore what is happening beyond our eyes?

If you engage with both WhatsApp and the show, it’s hard to follow what is happening.  I suspect this is on purpose.  The fragmented stories merge into one, as does our perception of the men that inhabit this space in the real world.  Because this play is about everyone who hasn’t engaged with what we regard as the modern world.  The far right websites, ISIS recruitment and propaganda sites, Breitbart, gaming websites that denigrate women, 4Chan, extreme pornography, graphic violence.  Everyone who is dissatisfied with the current world order, and who has a vested interest to challenge it.  It’s about how the internet is creating a new world half way between fantasy and reality, operating just out of view.  We know it is there, but we don’t.

Certainly the play is cleverly structured, weaving together three stories of alienated individuals with some persuasive political argument.  Visually it’s stunning.  As with the low tech Instructions for Border Crossing, the narratives are brief, fractured and at times confused, adding to the deception presented in the piece.  There are persuasive arguments against the existence of extreme and closed networks, those that promote hatred and violence.  Perhaps we see the hypocrisy of our own actions in our inaction.

HOME, as part of Orbit, 9-12 October 2017.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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