In February last year, without a word of warning to their parents, three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green left their homes for Syria. They are just some of the estimated 800 Britons said to have joined so-called Islamic State since its conception. As fear over terrorism continues to dominate headlines, it’s a topic that’s attracted panic, frustration, and blame on all sides. What remains unclear though, is why exactly so many young Muslims are risking their lives to join the organisation.
Another World: Losing Our Children to the Islamic State does not provide a solution to this overwhelmingly complicated issue, nor does it try to. Instead, what you get is a calm, serious discussion that rises above the commotion. Encompassing a whole range of views, the documentary theatre play by Gillian Slovo and Nicholas Kent uses material taken from interviews with researchers, politicians, young people, and families of the young men and women who left to fight. Word for word, the cast retells their conversations with astounding detail and focus.
There’s nothing particularly fancy about Another World in the way of stagecraft, but that doesn’t make it any less engrossing. The Syrian conflict, radicalisation, and the government’s prevent strategy all get a look in without jargon or pretence. The way in which the performance avoids any whiff of preachiness is equally impressive.
The testimonies from the mothers of those gone to Syria are as heart breaking as you might expect; their guilt and grief run deep. While their children’s backgrounds and characters all vary, their lives are all united by a deep-rooted feeling of displacement in society – the phrase “just something missing” keeps cropping up.
But perhaps the most insightful moments of the play are the discussions with Muslim teenagers from East London, who chat freely about their bafflement over the rise of IS and their fears of prejudice in after the Paris attacks. Theirs are voices that are not heard enough over the fierce political rhetoric both here and abroad, and it’s a reminder of how powerful a tool verbatim theatre can be. Another World is an entirely sophisticated, sensitive and important work.
Another World: Losing Our Children to the Islamic State is at the National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PX until 7 May.