Knowledge Week’s The Believers Are But Brothers takes you into online extremism

It’s a show which takes you to the digital edge. To the ISIS recruiting grounds and lost, hyperlinked highways of cyberspace – where the marginalized, mostly males, convene. UK Muslim and playwright Javaad Alipoor’s postmodern show, The Believers Are But Brothers, electrifies and part-terrifies, and is eerily familiar. It’s an exciting piece of contemporary theatre that turns the everyday into art and back again.

It starts with linking you into an audience Whatsapp group. Mimicking reality, it flows live, on screen and via chat spaces. Part bedroom confession, TED talk, YouTube vlog, or pub conversation, Allipoor’s talk moves seamlessly from his performance space (with chilling content and visuals projected onto a desktop screen), across the fourth wall divide to you in your polity of watchers in the darkness. This is a work about democracy and civics and although staged, interrogates the real. It’s an electric frisson between these spaces that makes this work so must see. We are each complicit in this creative space.

Showing at Arts House as a highlight  and international coup of the progressive Knowledge Melbourne schedule occupying Melbourne right now, this show is part of a program which interrogates the present to find possible futures. Seven lightbulb days of interactive events, workshops, dinners and performances, Melbourne Knowledge Week explores how we can shape the future of our city Content includes smart cities, sustainability, startups, technology, food, wellbeing and art, and celebrate this city’s most ambitious innovators, thinkers, creators and problem-solvers leading the way.

A darling of Edinburgh Fringe, the show is now touring internationally and could never be more prescient.This isn’t fiction as escapism, it’s in the Brecht tradition and is reality-based exploration turned art. You will learn of echo chamber chat rooms, groupthink, doxing, porn aggregation, KEKing, the presidential election campaigns of the West, the Alt-Right, where memes and chat speak are born, MEGA calls to unity, and the Gray Zone amongst other reality-spaces. The content examines power, from the medieval Crusades to the globalised todays, looks through a gender lens, and is so great because it speaks in the language of the medium and the people. We all have online lives.

Four years of research into the field with three case studies(fictionalised) show us the everyman turned nightmare, Frankenstein creations of our digital age. It could happen to you. Recruited in the dark, from bedroom chatrooms, through social media platforms (Facebook, Whats App, Twitter, YouTube) and digital spaces, lonely, alienated young men find recognition and community amongst other Islamic brethren across the world. The show tells us that if the internet is a democratic space, everyone and everything lives there and we all have access, within seconds and minute clicks of a mouse or a keystroke to life-changing states of mind. Witnessing murder online is different to seeing it in reality, and the play text takes us from UK homes to on-the-ground reenactments in Syrian training camps. Alipoor’s clever, attuned text begins in the domestic and local, humanising people you see on the street and follows the journey they travel to become co-opted Jihadi soldiers for Islam.

The narrative is flawless and takes you on an investigative arc that is emphatically dramatically strong. These characters, though treacherous, move. Alipoor’s elevated writing show how vulnerable these isolated target groups are, and they become victims, too, of mechanics and means.  His impassioned delivery of unceasing lines, spoken from his rolling office chair, standing at the mike, or headphoned, from his prefab desk, is, at times, Shakespearean in quality and depth. The words are so good they become poetry. Pathos is present as we follow these lads from Northern England community centres, to Syrian boot camps, through airport connections and reconnaissance to anonymous hookups, then prison cells.

The question is put – which is the biggest ogre? Multinational corporations who fund and allow propaganda to flourish unregulated online, the internet itself, the communities who feed like millions of fish on its ‘waste’, or the ideologues who promulgate nationalist ideology via the medium? In the dark, inside your own mind, it’s for you to determine. This is theatre for the 21st Century. 

– Sarah Wallace

is the Theatre Specialist for The Plus Ones, Melbourne.  A performing arts and English literature graduate of VCA, UOM and Deakin, she has a flair for bold, non-traditional performance platforms. An active contributor to The Melbourne Shakespeare Society, on the street, or in the box seat, she is always looking for quality works that push the envelope.

The Believers Are But Brothers shows 22-25 May 7.30pm Wednesday – Saturday (70 mins) at Meat Market, Arts House.  Buy tickets here. Auslan Interpreted performance 7.30pm Thu 23 May. The venue is accessible.

Warning: Coarse language.

Discover more about Knowledge Week here.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were guests of Starling Communications.

Images: Jack Offord.