Above: Sam Redway in action.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show
By Sam Redway and Tyrrell Jones
Directed by Tyrell Jones
A Knaive Theatre (UK) and Seymour Centre Production
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street
Season: 3-6 April 2019. Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com
In many ways, the story of Bin Laden starts at the end. Until the events of 11 September 2001, how many of us in the West had ever heard of him? Until that dastardly deed, his name had not been etched onto our collective memory.
And yet his story should, and must, be told.
The writers of Bin Laden: The One Man Show, Sam Redway and Tyrrell Jones, have creatively summarised his life in a most unexpected way. Using narrative, humour, dramatic re-enactment, sales spiel and some audience interaction, this workshop-style ‘show’ captures audience interest for its entire 60-minute duration.
The producers of the show are ‘selling’ us Bin Laden’s side of the story. This is an interpretation of Bin Laden by Sam Redway, an affable Englishman who bears no resemblance to Laden in appearance, style or manner (that we know of). It’s semi-confrontational but did not strike me as a soap-box diatribe of Al-Qaeda philosophy.
It is just an opportunity to provide Western audiences some understanding of the mindset of extremist Islamic terrorism.
Sam Redway begins the show as we are still finding our seats. He’s offering tea and biscuits. It’s like a sales convention. As the lights dim, he poses a few questions to get us used to saying ‘yes’ like any good spruiker.
“Do you distrust your government?”
“Do you want a better world for your children?”
As he reveals himself to be Osama bin Mohammad bin Awad bin Aboud bin Laden al Qatani, we discover that the same answers to these questions occur in his world as well. Not surprising.
The director Tyrrell Jones uses a lot of animation in the show. The monologue by Sam Redway moves along via use of a flip chart which highlights how to change the world in point form. We hear of his privileged childhood as part of the mega-rich Bin Laden family, his first marriage at 17 and his years at university.
Motivated by the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, he becomes more aware of the plight of the Muslim world and decides that a military ‘jihad’ is the best way to get solutions.
He finds a mentor who wisely advises “the ink of the scholar is greater than the blood of the martyr”. Unfortunately, Laden wants quick results. Using his clever administration skills and wily ability to attract funds, he soon establishes a name for himself amongst the uneducated and impressionable.
Soon he happily accepts American money to help fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. He adopts a world view that Jews and the USA are the cause of all Muslim problems. Laden then rattles off a series of Al-Qaeda attacks and victories.
When describing his delight in the battle of Mogadishu (depicted in the film ‘Black Hawk Down’), the theatrics become juvenile as ‘Bin’ uses teabags and biscuits to re-enact the battle whilst brandishing an AK-47. It was like watching Mr Bean on steroids. Similarly, the depiction of the fall of the Twin Towers was handled rather flippantly I thought. The ending also seemed disjointed and awkward.
Nonetheless, Sam Redway’s performance was impressive. His energy and humorous style was endearing, and he succeeded in presenting a difficult message.
The writers deserve praise for originality, conciseness and presentation. The subject matter will always promote discussion and strong feelings and therefore, they have achieved their goal. The set was barren and simple, perhaps a reflection of the cave-like existence of Mr Laden.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show is highly recommended for anyone interested in world affairs. It’s certainly topical, timely and entertaining as well. Stay for the after-play Q and A session as well, if offered.