JOYCE McMillan takes a look at two of this year’s hottest shows at Summerhall - Salt and The Believers Are But Brothers.
The Believers Are But Brothers | Northern Stage @ Summerhall (Venue 26) |Star rating: ****
Salt | Northern Stage @ Summerhall (Venue 26) | Star rating: ****
Outside, there’s a team of helpers encouraging the audience to get out their phones and download Whats App, the highly encrypted social network of choice for those who want to chat without being observed. And then inside the auditorium for The Believers Are But Brothers, there’s the glow of laptop screens, as writer-performer Javaad Alipoor and a silent technician sit at desks, exploring part of the internet most people have never seen. We log in to a network called “brothers”, and our phones spring to life; then Javaad swivels towards us, and begins to talk about his quest to understand the members of his generation who have become radicalised through the internet, sometimes travelling to Syria to join the organisation that calls itself Islamic State.
Javaad’s story comes with a warning, of course; of more than three million Muslims living in Britain, only a few hundred have taken this path, less than 1 per cent of 1 per cent. Yet as Javaad explores the world of online extremism, it soon becomes clear that what is being sold there is not so much any one set of beliefs, as a belief in extremism itself; a young male-dominated world driven by pornography, resentment and sexual neurosis, where the “grey zone” of civic peace and liberal values can no longer survive, and where even those on the Left now use the bitter, divisive, misogynistic language of the new American “alt-right”.
Javaad Alipoor is a genial and thoughtful young performer, as he takes us on a 55-minute journey into this world. In the end, though, it’s the texture of his writing – combined with stunning visual images by Jack Offord and Adam Radolinski – that makes this tentative but brilliant show a vital Fringe event, full of dark poetry and sheer analytical power in its understanding of how the internet can alter the minds of a generation at frightening speed, and begin to shake our world.
If The Believers Are But Brothers explores an extreme 21st century reaction to the dominance of the West, Selina Thompson’s beautiful and sometimes overwhelming monologue, Salt, takes a much more personal approach. Set on a simple stage featuring a glowing triangle and one massive piece of rock salt which Thompson gradually pounds into dust, the show offers a mighty 70-minute poetic meditation on what happens when, as a young Birmingham black woman in her mid-twenties, she becomes overwhelmed by rage at the experience of slavery and exploitation suffered by previous generations, and sets out on a triangular voyage – Britain to Africa, Jamaica, Carolina and back – that mirrors the slave routes of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Exquisitely lit by Cassie Mitchell in haunting shades of grey, gold and blue, her show creates some simple, unforgettable visual images, not least as Thompson bends to the gruelling task of breaking the stone, both metaphor and memory. As with Javaad Alipoor’s show, though, it’s finally the quality of her writing that matters most; brave, honest, unforgiving, and real as the taste of salt on the tongue.
• The Believers Are But Brothers, until 26 August; today 12:45pm. Salt until 27 August; today 2:30pm.