Peaceophobia – Review Contact Theatre

Theatre has often been seen as a medium for groups to find an alternative voice than the mainstream. In Peaceophobia we get exactly that. British. Pakistani. Male. Car enthusiasts. And Muslim.

Portrayed more than just the stereotype that is often depicted widely, Peaceophobia is unapologetic in challenging the conventional viewpoints.

They cannot understand why British Pakistani men, who own high performance cars cannot be anything other than drug dealers.

They cannot understand that when British Pakistani Muslim men go abroad that it is somehow linked to criminality or in the engagement of terrorism.

They cannot understand that when British Pakistani Muslim men pray that it viewed as a form of extremism.

Peaceophobia premise is simple. It is about British Pakistani Muslim men coming together over their passion for cars set against the backdrop of rising Islamophobia. Co-created by Common Wealth, Speakers’ Corner and Bradford Modified Club and co-written by poet and playwright Zia Ahmed and Bradford performers Ali Yunis, Casper Ahmed and Sohail Hussain, this is a tale as much about loving cars as it is about the prejudices that they have faced from being themselves.

There is a sense of theatricality in this production. Set on the ninth floor of a car park, the stage accommodates a Supra, a Golf and a classic Nova, who more than play a part in the evening’s proceedings. There is also particular attention given to the ambient neon lighting and a fantastic soundtrack. It’s all the elements that one would expect from a person who becomes fascinated in a world of motors, from the stereo systems to the fancy headlights. All that was missing was a soft top roof turning the stage into a form of cabriolet. That and some furry dice.

And yet this production is more than just avant garde flashes of showmanship. The subject matter holds centre stage. The Bradford performers are passionate in their detailing of examples of Islamophobic episodes, which naturally centres on their cars and their interactions with authorities, namely the police, who have often targeted such men.

This is a feature that can be widely appreciated by most ethnic groups featuring young men with cars. Government stats show that people of a different ethnicity are more likely to get stopped and searched than those from a white ethnic background. And this is the central pivot to which the production comes back time and time again.

When this works well is in the performers. Their affability is key. The telling of their stories heartfelt. There is a wonderful moment where one describes the history of the VW Golf – from MK1 to MK8 – set against the history of milestones that contributed to the rise of Islamophobia that include references to the Bradford riots, 9/11, 7/7 and the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

However, where this does not work so well is the overly focus of police harassment as the be all and end all to Islamophobia and so missing the opportunity to give a wider lens to this issue. Moreover, the flow of the message becomes disjointed when it tries to introduce something more of an artistic flair to their storytelling. It feels at times a cobbled together piece from a series of workshops, where some things work and some not so.

The beauty of Peaceophobia for me is not just the subject matter that is broached but also the fact that I’ve seen such productions come and go but rarely with such investment. This isn’t just about three young lads but the whole discussion. Accompanying this is a complementary production Come to my Mum’s: An Evening of Poetry and Storytelling, which aims to celebrate the voices of South Asian Muslim women, and runs alongside Peaceophobia as looks to widen the conversation around the piece. There is also an exhibition that runs part of this almost mini festival celebrating all things Muslims and Bradford – Speaker’s Corner Sisterhood – which features a “vivid set of photographs, part celebration of sisterhood and part show of colourful individuality”.

Verdict: Peaceophobia might not hit the top revs all the time but alongside its accompanied productions it is a message that is sure to resonate with one and all. 3 out of 5 stars

What: Peaceophobia
Where: Contact Theatre
When: 29th September 2021