Review - The Believers Are But Brothers (Bush Theatre)

The Believers Are But Brothers is an hour long play written and performed by Javaad Alipoor, which explores the disturbing part which the internet and social media has to play in bolstering the popularity of extremist groups in the tech savvy 21st century. He tells a fictional story about how three young men from different walks of life (two British Muslims recruited into ISIS, and one American alt-right extremist) react to a video of a young girl in Syria who is singing on a street when an explosive device is detonated. Throughout the play, Alipoor attempts to deconstruct the mindsets of those that viewed the video, and explores the destructive paths they take as a result. 

Javaad Alipoor in The Believers Are But Brothers
Photo credit - The Other Richard
Part play, part lecture, The Believers Are But Brothers demonstrates the power of end to end encryption, used by terrorists as a recruitment tool and to plot attacks, by having part of the play conveyed through a group WhatsApp message which the entire audience is encouraged to join. Having the audience keep their phones on throughout the play provides many opportunities for the action to be diverted by rogue messages, but Alipoor manages to keep everything rolling along, despite some inevitable distractions. 

Alipoor is a very likable presence; extremely compelling and affable, if a little unpolished. It's clear he's done his research on the subject he's talking about, and frequently references his time exploring the dark depths of sites like 4chan to mine for content for his play. That being said, despite his impressive research, The Believers Are But Brothers doesn't cover as much new ground as it perhaps has the potential to. A few years ago, hearing stories of horribly disturbing videos being shared around on the internet as a tool to fire up vulnerable people who feel let down or left behind by society would've seemed horrific, but in 2018 in a horrible way it seems sort of unsurprising. After all, when the President of the United States of America can retweet fake videos posted by a neo fascist group and sustain very little condemnation from his supporters, the proof of the potency of online radicalism and extremism is plain to see in the mainstream, not just on the reprehensible fringes of the web.

The Believers Are But Brothers may not be the most groundbreaking piece of theatre which covers the subject of extremism, but it is enjoyable and interesting nonetheless.