Available until: 26th February
Content warning 12+ but there are scenes of torture.
Guantanamo Boy is a timely production. The Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness of the despicable treatment faced by people of colour and this production raises awareness of a particularly horrific time which actually isn’t over yet. The title of the play comes from Guantanamo Bay, the name of an American military prison in Cuba. It was established in 2002, when George W. Bush was president and although Barack Obama wanted to close the prison and Joe Biden says he will close it, it remains open to this day. Biden’s predecessor, whom I prefer not to name as I don’t want him finding this page next time he googles himself, wanted to keep the prison open indefinitely. 40 prisoners remain, with nine dying in custody in the last few weeks.
I believe that with any kind of discrimination (though of course, we’re only talking about racism and Islamophobia now), there are two types of play that can be extremely helpful – plays for education and plays for normalisation. The former teaches people about a world so many people didn’t even realise they lived in and hopefully inspires them to do something about it. The latter shows the people who somehow didn’t realise before that the minority races are really no different from us.
Guantanamo Boy actually does both. To begin with, we see the main character, Khalid, with his mum, his friends and the girl he likes. He is a very typical teenager who enjoys video games and football. There’s one particular girl he really likes. He doesn’t want to do his homework, he has preferences about what shoes he wears and he has a talent for annoying his mum. I would think most people can identify with some of this, though it’s obviously completely fine if you don’t identify with any of it.
But Khalid is also a Muslim and it’s not that long since 9/11. He’s about to be thrown into a world where ‘innocent until proved guilty’ does not apply. Not even close.
I’m not familiar with Anna Perrera’s original novel, but writer and director Dominic Hingorani eloquently presents both Khalid’s teenage life and his horrific future. The production, which I believe was filmed in 2013, gives the impression of being filmed on location, but I think it was actually all filmed in one rectangular room with the audience locked into cages, as the prisoners were. The torture scenes are appropriately muted for a production which is aimed at teens, but it’s still a powerful and emotional piece of theatre which is difficult to watch and might not be suitable for everyone, including adults.
Khalid is played by Antonio Khela, who makes the character very likeable but almost scarily typical. I have met lots of people who are very like Khalid. Lots of people who, according to this terrible régime, would be classed as a terrorist. Bhawha Bhawsar is demanding and characterful as Khalid’s mum and provides some early humour. But you won’t be laughing later on. Roisin O’Loughlin is self-confident and kind as Niamh, the object of Khalid’s affections, and Edward Nkom is fun as Khalid’s schoolfriend. There are a lot of lads like him too! Bhawha, Roisin and Edward also appear in other roles and they are frightening.
A really powerful and important play.