Review: Trojan Horse (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe)

Lung’s excellent verbatim play focuses in on the Trojan Horse Inquiry of 2014

Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
(© The Other Richard)

Perhaps the bravest and most astutely political of shows on up in Edinburgh this year is Lung's Trojan Horse. Piercing, relevant, terrifying and beautifully told, the play picks up on a murky, hugely controversial event in the recent history of British education and lays it out for audiences in all its ugly, messy, unhappy glory.

Trojan Horse is a piece that pulls no punches and takes few prisoners. It focuses in on the Trojan Horse Inquiry, which took place in 2014 in response to a letter delivered to a local politician in Birmingham. The letter posited that there was a plot afoot to radicalise Birmingham schools, conducted by high profile Muslim members of the education scene. It was exposed fairly quickly as a fake, but the damage it caused was irreparable.

Matt Woodhead and Helen Monks have conducted over 200 hours of interviews with teachers, students, parents and governors who were involved in the inquiry and present a verbatim piece of theatre (it's important to note that Lung don't shy away from taking sides) which relays what happened. The fallout from Trojan Horse has stretched far and wide.

Trojan Horse
Trojan Horse
(© Ellie Claughton)

Essentially what we see onstage is how people with power manage to trample over those without. The dealings between Michael Gove, the Education Secretary at the time, the head of the investigation Peter Clarke (the ex-head of the Counter Terrorism Command) and Daily Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan are portrayed as suspect at best. But we also hear the voices of the kids in the schools affected, who were struggling with their own usual teenage issues whilst also having to deal with being in the eye of the vast media storm.

It's all staged with energy and precision by Woodhead, and performed beautifully by a cast of five. Using school tables and a blackboard at the back of the stage, the story is told in segments, with the cast merging in and out of character swiftly but never confusingly. The piece exposes many, many questions, several of which are about who controls, and should control our schools, institutionalised racism and the damage the media can cause in the speed they jump on a story. But at the heart of Trojan Horse are the pupils, who feel betrayed by the country they live in. It's bracing, excellent stuff.

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