Filing into the theatre past a flip board of butchers paper, we're greeted by a suited up twenty-something white man serving cups of tea and biscuits. It appears we've arrived at a motivational seminar. Our guru starts questioning his disciples. Do we care about the world? Yes! Do we want to leave it a better place than when we found it? Of course! Are we satisfied without government? Hell no! If there was an attack on our country from an outside force, would we join the revolution to fight for our freedom? Um...
Our teacher then steps us through his six-point program, the 'Flight for Freedom'. Turns out he knows a thing or two about this, with a solid three decades under his belt as a resistance fighter, spiritual leader, military commander, revolutionary – or as some would have it, terrorist. We track his journey from charming academic and revolutionary, inspired by love of his wife and son, to the globally revered and reviled head of al-Qaeda, fuelled by betrayal.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show was definitely not what I expected. The eponymous antihero is a hugely influential historical figure, granted, but I pondered the currency of a show about him now, eight years after his death, and when the pressing moral issues of our time have moved on. What could this work have to say to push our current societal conversations forward? Well, as it turned out, plenty.
Having a white guy portray the sometime Prince of the Islamic Empire is a surprisingly effective tool to engender enlightenment in mostly white audience. The work was co-created by Sam Redway (actor) and Tyrrell Jones (director) of Knaïve Theatre. These guys really know what they're doing. Bin Laden is impeccably researched, pragmatic, non-preachy, and bloody hell does it make you think.
The play felt like a Lolita moment – you feel such compassion, perhaps for the first time, for a man you know has done terrible things. More to the point, you understand why he has done them. And you're forced to question whether what he's done is, in fact, so terrible. Or is that just what the rulers of our own Empire told us to think? It's a discomfiting thought. But a timely reminder of the power of populist rhetoric.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show is at Holden Street Theatres for the rest of the Fringe. If you really want a punch in the guts, see Bin Laden and Grounded on the same night. They are two sides of the same coin.