Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Bin Laden: The One Man Show

Sam Redway and Tyrrell Jones
Knaïve Theatre
The Royal Exchange, Manchester
09 February 2017

The title of Knaïve Theatre’s production: Bin Laden: The One Man Show makes one anticipate a deliberately offensive stand up comedy act. Entering The Royal Exchange to find one has strayed into a self-help group comes as something of a surprise.  Sole performer Sam Redway is serving tea and biscuits and encouraging the audience to chat about whether they feel responsible for developing a better world for future generations or reasons why we distrust the government. Redway, in the relaxed easy manner of a motivational speaker, explains that he can show us how we can change the things about which we complain. Then he introduces himself: his name is Osama Bin Laden.

It is a wonderfully sneaky opening and typical of a show that shamelessly manipulates the audience and constantly calls upon them to question their beliefs. The idea that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter is hardly new but has rarely been expressed in such a cheeky and even persuasive manner. The political rhetoric used by Bin Laden to justify his actions is frighteningly familiar . Speeches bemoaning the abuse of human rights and the excesses of globalisation could have been taken from the pages of any current left-wing newspaper. 

Bin Laden: The One Man Show is thought- provoking and far from dull. Director and co-author Tyrrell Jones pushes every manipulative button available. Redway strikes absurdly dramatic poses and makes speeches full of stirring quotations from movies that are almost drowned out by blasts of music from epic soundtracks. Audience members are called upon to supplement the cast making speeches and donning headgear.

While the show may work in terms of raising debate on Bin Laden’s motivation and whether those who condemn him are any better, it is less successful in efforts to draw out his humanity. Bin Laden’s shy courtship of his wife and his joy at the birth of his son are described but even so, if Bin Laden is defined by his actions, then he remains a monster. After all, Hitler may have been able to dance the pants off old Churchill but remains responsible for the Holocaust.  

Cheeky and provocative, Bin Laden: The One Man Show is a fine example of political theatre

Reviewer: David Cunningham