Saturday, 16 January 2010

Jihad! The Musical: satire or offence?

Here we go again with another play which aims to satirise but has been accused of giving offence.

'Jihad! The Musical’ started off life as a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2007 and now has its London premiere. Telling the story of a young Afghan flower seller who unwittingly joins a terrorist sleeper cell, it's a provocative send-up of the stereotyped media-hype surrounding the 'war on terror'. You can just see the laughs in that can't you?

The show has big musical numbers called 'When We’re Martyrs', 'Building a Bomb Today', 'The Jihad Jive', as well as 'I Wanna Be Like Osama', which apparently became a YouTube sensation in 2007, viewed more than 370,000 times.   

With such satire, the challenge is, of course, to make the satircal intent sufficiently clear. If the satircial aim isn't clear then you risk the material being used by bigots and racists to endorse their views. Isn't this where the 1970s BBC comedy 'Till Death Do Us Part' went wrong in some respects, however unintentionally. Though it was a very successful show, and perhaps because of that, it was never a good day for us brown kids in the school playground the day after that show was broadcast. On the other hand, there's an artistic balance to be struck - as writer or director you presumably don't want to end up with an equal opportunities educational piece either.

However it remains that while seeking to send up ethnic stereotypes, such performances can end up perpetuating them - that was also an accusation levelled at This is England, a controversial play performed last year at London's National Theatre which I wrote about at the time.

I haven't seen this play yet so I can't judge it precisely. Certainly the critics haven't been altogether kind (The Guardian and Telegraph reviews). I can actually see the potential for satire around this topic - perhaps something in the way that Omid Djalili sent up some similar material in his BBC televised one-man shows. I'm all for getting these issues out in the open but in any civilised society surely we need to do them sensitively. Let me know what you think if you see this production.

'Jihad! The Musical’ is at Jermyn Street Theatre,16b Jermyn St, Piccadilly, London SW1 (020 7287 2875) since 8 Jan until 6 Feb.

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