Theatre review: Trojan Horse, Summerhall

The performances from the five actors in Trojan Horse are striking across the board. Picture: The Other Richard
The performances from the five actors in Trojan Horse are striking across the board. Picture: The Other Richard
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While the mythical Trojan horse bore the tangible threat of invasion within, as it was allowed into the city of Troy under the auspices of peaceful gift-giving, the Trojan horse which invaded the mailbox of Birmingham’s council in late 2013 proved to be intangible; a letter purporting to prove that majority-Muslim schools in Birmingham were being taken over by shady cabals of governors and headteachers with the aim of radicalising a generation of British-Muslim youth.

Trojan Horse, Summerhall (Venue 26) ****

This secret supposed plan was later discredited, but it mutated and shifted during its lifetime in the media glare into a different kind of ulterior scheme; one in which the UK Government – personified by Michael Gove, education minister and “horcrux” of Margaret Thatcher’s free-market education policies – used it as both a political football to make themselves look strong and proactive before conference season, and a means of legislating for enhanced “Britishness” within schools. At least, so says this striking and dynamically staged verbatim piece by Barnsley-based Lung, whose previous credits include E15 and Chilcot.

Compiled from 200 hours of one-to-one interviews with those involved, as well as extensive public documents and testimony, co-writers’ Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead’s play (Woodhead also directs) insinuates itself into the culture of the former Park View school, illuminating a process of suspicion, fearmongering and political handwashing after the anonymous letter is received, through five striking and enthralling performances.

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Taking the role of pupils, teachers, governors and headteachers – including the concerned but perhaps bitter headteacher expelled in favour of an overachieving new Muslim incumbent, under whose oversight pass rates rocket – these actors reveal stories that offer a first-hand account of a witch hunt in action.

The technique of verbatim theatre involves taking the original speakers of the words on trust, and grey areas exist here; although the headteacher under investigation is concerned for his pupils and sympathetic, proof against him of sexism and homophobia through old WhatsApp messages is never fully explained.

Yet the simple truths here appear evident; that any hint of racism in official process obviously produces bad outcomes, and that any form of political point-scoring over education damages innocent young futures.

• Until 26 August, 3:15pm