Be warned, this is not a play for non-white people. I should have known that from the clickbait lead image featuring an old white man, Louis Theroux vibes (a fellow Quent), standing in front of a tank decorated by brown men in thoubs, because that is all they are in this docu-play. Afghan people are objectified to add colour to a play which was set in Afghanistan before Henry Naylor had set foot in the actual country.
The greatest spin doctor in theatre describes Naylor’s 7-day voyeuristic holiday to the Middle East with his Scottish sidekick as “a close shave with a landmine, menaced by a warlord and abducted by the Mujahideen”. In actuality we have a pair of privileged white male vultures unable to make their own lives and experiences interesting enough, they have to prey on the suffering of others. (Un)shockingly this is applauded in our current theatre landscape as the play is reviewed 4 and 5 stars across the board.
If you don’t understand my anger let me give you my credentials as a working-class brown Muslim in London who has friends of friends who have travelled to places like Syria to fight Western powers and been killed in the process. Who has friends of a sister who has PTSD from being interrogated and intimidated by police over days due to special powers given if you are a terrorist suspect. Who has watched the gentrification of Brick Lane in her lifetime. A woman whose mother country is a place where beggars behaviours don’t need dissecting.
This maybe a case of “reading the room wrong” and I am sure that I’ll be vilified as some kind of precious snowflake. This is a non-political play which explains Naylor’s success, he doesn’t rock the boat and comes across a genuinely nice guy, much like Hugh Grant at first glance. The writing is good, it’s structured well, and Naylor is an engaging performer. If you don’t mind the audacity of his privilege, it is entertaining and it is certainly informative: I was given a first-hand case study of how easy it is to be a white man in theatre.
By Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Follow Tasnim on Instagram: @tasnimsiddiqaamin & WordPress.
Afghanistan is not Funny is currently showing until Saturday 11th March 2023 at the Arcola Theatre. To find out more about the production, visit here…