Monday, 29 January 2018

The Believers Are But Brothers – Bush Theatre

The Believers are but Brothers is a one-man show that tackles the internet, masculinity, and their part in fuelling extremist views. Javaad Alipoor, writer and performer, splits his time between addressing the audience as himself and narrating the stories of three extremist individuals. These may be fictional accounts, but they are rooted in truths from the extensive research that shaped the piece. 

As expected with a show about the depths of the internet, much of what Alipoor has to say is conveyed through technology, whether that’s one of the computers sitting at his desk, the large transparent screen that forms a backdrop to much of the narrative, or through the WhatsApp group the audience are encouraged to join. In fact, the variety of mediums through which the show is presented is its principal strength, with the form bearing more innovation than the content itself at times.

Communicating with the audience via WhatsApp is an interesting experiment, particularly as the theatre is one of few sacred spaces that mobile phones have yet to invade (on the most part). Alipoor uses the WhatsApp chat in several ways: to directly speak to the audience, sharing funny memes to visually substantiate his point, and as an extension of the narrative pieces, acting as communications from the characters within.

Giving your audience the power to speak back semi-anonymously is a potentially risky move, and it does become a distraction at times, cutting over sombre moments when bolder members of the audience fish for laughs. However, Alipoor also demonstrates the power of messaging platforms, silencing the room with violent death threats from a misogynist character, representing the alt-right extremists populating forums such as 4chan.      

Though we are led through harrowing events, such as a video of a young girl during a bombing in Syria, and the horrors of extremist actions from ISIS and white supremacists, it’s by no means an entirely serious event. Alipoor is an engaging and natural speaker, expertly balancing the challenging subject matter with frequent moments of laughter. The script is littered with internet jokes, and even in more grave exploration, he stays well clear of sanctimonious or condescending explanations.

The Believers Are But Brothers is an absorbing hour of narrative, employing innovative form to examine the power of the internet in spreading extremist views, and the idea that toxic masculinity is somewhat to blame.

The Believers Are But Brothers is playing at Bush Theatre until 10th February.

*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.

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