‘Bin Laden: The One Man show’ at The Bike Shed Theatre

Award-winning theatre company Knaïve Theatre are set to perform their critically acclaimed and controversial Bin Laden: The One Man show at The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter from 24th – 28th October.

Bin Laden: The One Man Show tells the story of the world’s most wanted terrorist – but not as we know it. Beginning with bin Laden’s youth, from falling in love with his childhood sweetheart, to fatherhood, and his University days, the show charts the ideas and events that led to the making of the monster, right through to the atrocious attack on the World Trade Centre.

With populist rhetoric playing an ever-increasing role in Western politics, the show’s creators, Tyrrell Jones and Sam Redway, pry apart what it is that draws us to follow demagogues. Redway explains: “We ask whether the world’s most wanted terrorist might have been more persuasive than we ever imagined, and urge audiences to re-examine their own information and prejudices from a naïve perspective, just as Tyrrell and I have.”

But bin Laden does not appear to the audience as we might imagine him, not the way he appears in the images we’ve seen in the media. Rather, his voice is heard through Redway as orator – a persona who is blonde, white-British, and charming as cream teas in summer.  The creators’ decision to give the notorious figure this persona is a fascinating one. It urges the audience to challenge their perceptions, and asks the extent to which our perceived ideas about the typical image of a ‘terrorist’ affect our emotional response. 

Jones reiterates, “even the most liberal audiences are confronted with the fact that they respond to Sam in a different way to the way they might respond if listening to someone who looked like bin Laden, with a beard and a turban. We all like to believe that we are not fundamentally judgemental, or fundamentally racist, even, but we all have these little cultural biases indoctrinated into us that are woven into our cultural fabric. And to shine a mirror on that really makes you check yourself.”

The show originally opened at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. The surprise smash of the Fringe, Bin Laden was awarded the first Broadway Bobby Award of the year, made it into the List’s Top 5 Theatre Shows To See, and received a host of first-rate reviews. With the success of Edinburgh behind them, Jones and Redway undertook formal training (Birkbeck MFA in Directing and RADA MA Theatre Lab respectively), before redeveloping and touring the show – this time around USA with Arts Council AIDF funding.

Having provoked important and timely debate surrounding Middle East conflict and the War On Terror internationally, they will now bring that discussion to a national audience on a UK tour to include The Royal Exchange, The Sherman Theatre, and The Mercury. “Though we expected this story would become less and less relevant,” says Jones, “current global tensions and recent events have galvanised an ever-increasing appetite for the debate the show inspires.”

The tour kicked off with a return to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Bin Laden played to frequently sold out houses. The capacity for the show to bend perspectives and challenge ideas led to illuminating conversations, bringing together ex-Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, British Muslims, Trump supporters, and even people who knew Bin Laden personally, all for a compelling debate in the bar afterwards.

Redway reiterates: “Absolutely anybody who takes the slightest interest in current affairs can take something profound away from this show, and what’s more feel like they are a welcome part of the debate. Whatever faith, whatever background, whether a left or right-winger, whether a student at school, university, or not at all.”

During their stay in Exeter, by day the company will develop their newest piece of work, an adaptation of Czech writer Karel Čapek’s 1936 science fiction novel War with the Newts, an apocalyptic political satire upon nationalism, capitalism, and social segregation. This new adaptation will be written in collaboration with Channel Four Young Writer Tim Foley and transport the novel to a dystopian Britain, creating a frighteningly relevant glimpse of the catastrophic potential conclusions provoked by a rise in nationalist sentiment.

Bin Laden: The One Man Show will be performed from 24th-28th October at The Bike Shed Theatre, www.bikeshedtheatre.co.uk.

Follow Knaïve Theatre on Twitter, @KnaiveTheatre

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