Extremism

Wed 8th – Sun 12th August 2018

reviews

Olivia Cooke

at 08:31 on 12th Aug 2018

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Anders Lustgarten's ‘Extremism’ is a political piece of drama which explores the damaging effects of the Government’s Prevent strategy on a group of schoolchildren. Shocked by the police taking their fellow classmate Jamal (Rohan Mahem) away, the class descends into a chaotic struggle to reconcile repressed fears and tensions amidst a backdrop of escalating uncertainty.

The drama’s venture into topics such as racism and xenophobia were thoughtfully handled, and proved significant with regard to the overall narrative of the drama. Factions emerged within the class, as the schoolchildren pitted themselves against one another based on political, racial and religious terms. Darren (James Lockhart) and Melina (Lemonitsa Petris) acted as the ring-leaders in enforcing a witch-hunt like persecution against their sole Muslim classmate, Suhayla (Elena Georghiou). Their dialogue at times was chillingly imbibed with a rhetoric that felt pertinent in light of today's turbulent political climate.

The use of the physical space perfectly illustrated the divisions between classmates. Throughout the performance the classroom desks were pushed into two sides, with the cast members on stage aligning themselves accordingly to their allegiances. In one horrific scene, we see the majority of the schoolchildren witness an assault on Suhayla led by Melina. In order to “protect […] one another”, Melina brutally attacks Rachel, causing the class to almost break under the tension created from this uncomfortable incident. Although this attack was incredibly melodramatic with regard to how it was acted by the collective cast members, it became an important example as to the potential effects of repressed racial and xenophobic fears - manifesting in an unsettling piece of physical theatre.

‘Extremism’ deftly handled divisive topics in its critique of Prevent, however, it did feel like it had too many subplots going on. One such example is the character of Evan (Ellie Killeen) displaying the signs of having an eating disorder, which were quite literally unnoticed by the other cast members. Despite this, ‘Extremism’ was a very thought-provoking and moving piece of drama, which achieved its aim of criticising the Prevent strategy in addition to depicting the creeping polarisation of our society.

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Melissa Tutesigensi

at 09:01 on 12th Aug 2018

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Worlds End Production’s ‘Extremism’ is an exploration of suspicion, fear and comradery as a group of students have to contend with the removal of one of their classmates, Jamal, who was reported to Prevent by Miss Tomlinson. The production centres on the main distinction between those who think that the authorities were justified and those who do not. As the play evolves, we begin to see that whilst opinions on anti-terrorism schemes are polarising, they are not black and white.

Theresa May’s speech on the Prevent strategy is the first thing we hear as we look out onto the stage (a typical secondary school classroom). The students enter and take their seats, and we see Jamal being taken away. From there, the students begin to discuss what has happened, revealing their opinions on the incident. There are two characters who represent the opposite ends of the spectrum; a conservative Darren who has open debates with the only other Muslim in the class, Suhayla. We get to know the other students’ thoughts as the play develops, and as some become more afraid, whilst others more angry. The classroom is a pressure cooker and there comes a point where, inevitably, the hot air becomes too much.

There is no denying the message of this play; the Prevent strategy has failed in preventing terrorism and instead succeeded in scapegoating. In a heated moment, one of the students Melina says "I reckon that things would be a lot better if someone paid the price." Some of the students chose to follow the conviction that someone must be guilty as it’s better to have someone to blame rather than no one. In a world where so much seems untameable, it’s comforting to have something to hold onto - even if that something means accusing someone for being a terrorist because they fit the ‘right’ profile.

Essentially, all the students in the class just want to feel safe. But then, "everybody wants to feel safe” says Jordan, “that doesn't make you special". Yet the battle of coming to terms with the uncomfortable reality of terror threats and violence in the world is unsettling for them.

This conversation could have been presented in multiple ways, but the use of the setting of the classroom allowed there to be a level of naivety which proved effective. However, whilst the choice of setting worked well for the story, at times the acting imitated the classroom style with static and forced delivery, letting down an otherwise strong script. It was clear that some actors had more of a say than others, and whilst this presents a natural classroom, it was as if some characters were part of the background, not really contributing the conversation. Regardless of this, ‘Extremism’, is a thoughtful and well-articulated play which succeeds in presenting the grey area of such a deeply polarising topic.

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