This is documentary theatre at its most helpful: assisting or correcting what you thought you knew about five east Birmingham schools which were taken over and governed by radical Islamists. Or were they? LUNG and the Leeds Playhouse grasp the lives, the shock and the damage behind the dossiers of official record.
Trojan Horse is also surprising – as infiltration should be – which strikes me as an achievement, given that it's (re)telling a story that has been all over the news since it first broke in early 2014. Just last Friday, August 17, BBC Education reported “Trojan Horse hearings cost £1.27 million”. So, to open with a disturbing tweak of The Three Little Pigs is – not to patronise teen speak – proper clever.
The play uses evidence from some 90 individuals – and whilst its interpretation of events is contestable (and is meant to be), its action is coherent, exciting and defiant. Scene titles are chalked up and then rubbed out on the blackboard in rapid order; it’s always good to see simple devices used effectively. The desks, those good ones with lids, are on wheels, and there are microphones for the immoderate press.
One scene is of the Select Education Committee of the Commons, but otherwise we’re in or around Park View Secondary School in Alum Rock, two miles east of Birmingham city centre. 80 per cent of the local population are Muslims. The fallout from, and the circumstances surrounding, Operation Trojan Horse are reported by pupils, teachers, school governors, and council officers.
Michael Gove was Education Secretary at the time, and is up there as Public Enemy No. 1. The evidence against him and against the Government’s expansion of the academies programme – to free up English schools from the big bad local authority – just keeps stacking up.
Five actors carry all of this. Three have principally adult roles: a teacher at Park View, Rashid Wasi (Maanuv Thiara); a council officer (Annice Bopari); and community leader and school governor Tahir Alam (Shobat Kadara). The personal narrative of Year 11 pupil, Farah (Ashna Rabheru), is particularly compelling, and she’s the one who reads out her GCSE results in the closing scene. Komal Amin completes the cast. The script, written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead – who also directs – allows for performance and exposition in equal and telling measure.
That Trojan Horse has a political bearing is obvious. Government "Guidance on promoting British values in schools" (published in November 2014; no surprise there) deserves the open and critical scrutiny that this play so convincingly provides. I hope it proves influential.