When feminist Carol Hanisch observed that ‘the personal is political’ she could have looking into the distant future and seeing this powerful piece about the experiences of three British Pakistani men in a Britain increasingly at war with itself.
One of the more depressing aspects of recent British theatre is its seeming reluctance to produce work that speaks truth to power, but that is not a charge that can be levelled at Bradford’s Common Wealth who were set up to do just that.
Peaceophobia has its roots in local activism when Speakers Corner – who offer a safe space for local Asian women – ran a car meet with Bradford Modified Club to challenge Islamophobia after racist leaflets were shoved through doors.
Tonight, we are huddled in a draughty soon to be demolished multi-story car park in Bradford city centre to meet three car fanatics. In an impressive opening they drive their modified high-performance cars with roaring engines onto the simple set to explore racism, faith, the joy of geekiness and the personal cost of Islamophobia.
Mohammad Ali Yunis, Casper Ahmed and Sohail Hussain are all club members who have day jobs, but tonight they and their cars are the stars of the show. Their authentic performances work because talking to playwright Zia Ahmed they have devised a work offering a rare insight into their world
This wouldn’t have worked with professional actors as the material is too raw and far too personal. It would be hard for any actor to be as authentic as they describe how after regular police stops one of them ends up screaming out their frustration into the boot of their lovingly modified Golf. Or the fury of being asked to be an informant by the very people you feel are harassing you? Or be able to deliver your lines as you confidently weld a tool that buffs your car up so you can see your own image on every surface of the car?
As well as finding some form of sanctuary in their cars, faith emerges as a key element of how the men manage their emotions and frustrations offering a prayer at the end that echoes round and round the car park and our minds.
It would be wrong to describe this as a misery fest as Fuel’s typically clever production incorporates the tools the men use to modify their pride and joys. Ahmed’s free flowing structure – including a beautiful poem about identity – offers plenty of humour – and even a rap – as the men banter around their cars, which are in a real way an extension of their different personalities.
Common Wealth’s Evie Manning and her team of co-directors from Speakers Corner keep it full of energy and movement as the men return again and again to the cars that bind them and make them feel safe and alive.
Common Wealth’s gift is finding human stories that make big issues seem manageable because they filter them through the eyes of the individuals impacted by them. Peaceophobia asks us to see beyond the noisy engines and throbbing bass from the sound systems to really see the people behind the wheel.
Peaceophobia is at Oastler Car Park until 19th September followed by six performances in Manchester from 29th September at First Street Car Park presented by Contact. To book go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/peaceophobia-tickets-155940362823 or https://contactmcr.com/shows/peaceophobia/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 12th September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★