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Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State review at the National’s Temporary Theatre

Nathalie Armin in Another World at the National Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

One phrase, use repeatedly by the interviewees in this verbatim show, holds within it so much meaning: “going to Syria”. Until recently, that simply meant going on holiday. Today it is a fierce and incomprehensible political declaration.

Writer Gillian Slovo interviewed many people over several years for this production. It confronts both the intellectual and emotional backgrounds to the rise of Islamic State. Human stories – mothers in a Belgian community centre who’ve lost their children – are set against the arguments of ‘experts’ in radicalisation, who haven’t made the decision to go to Syria, but think they understand the people who have.

There are three black chairs, a cluster of screens showing news footage of Paris, of drone strikes, and live-streaming the performers’ faces like interviewees on Newsnight. Bright white lights shine on their faces. The monochrome simplicity is at odds with the completely not-black-and-white issue the play attempts to confront.

Nicolas Kent’s still, sparse staging is very effective, but completely undermined by segments of sixth former interviewees introduced by a loud school bell, the kids bouncing on stage to show that they’re young. It’s sorely misjudged, infantilising despite the insight of the students’ comments, and mismatched with the stripped back clarity of the rest of the show.

There’s honesty and earnestness (and occasional falseness) in the performances, but the three Belgian mothers – Nathalie Armin, Penny Layden and Sirine Saba – are particularly moving as they interweave the stories of their lost children.

It sweeps and searches for answers to impossible questions, trying to elucidate the many nuances of an immensely complex subject. All in the service of a simple question, asked by one of the mothers as she recalls with painful tears her son’s story: “He found happiness in a country at war. Why?”

Occasionally moving, often insightful verbatim piece about the appeal of Islamic State to young people

Production Information

Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State
Temporary Theatre, National
April 9, 2016
May 7, 2016
Press night
April 15, 2016
Gillian Slovo, developed with Nicolas Kent from his original idea
Nicolas Kent
Lucy Sierra
Matthew Eagland
Mike Winship
Duncan McLean
Majella Hurley (dialect coach), Jackie Orton (costume supervisor), Suzanne Scotcher (wigs, hair and make up supervisor)
Stage manager
Lizzie Chapman
Cast includes
Nathalie Armin, Zara Azam, Gunnar Cauthery, Jack Ellis, Nabil Elouahabi, Penny Layden, Ronak Patani, Gary Pillai, Farshid Rokey, Sirine Saba, Lara Sawalha, Phaldut Sharma, Tim Woodward
National Theatre
Running time
1hr 30mins