Bin Laden: The One Man Show | Preview
Conor O’Neill Interviews Director/Co-Writer Tyrrell Jones
Bin Laden: The One Man Show runs at the MAC from 20 -21 April 2018
Ahead of their two night run at Belfast’s MAC Theatre, co-founder of Knaive Theatre, director, and writer Tyrrell Jones speaks with CultureHUB about their critically acclaimed Bin Laden: The One Man Show. Picking up awards from the Edinburgh Fringe to Hollywood, with stop-offs in Denmark and Tijuana, Mexico, the show promises to turn Western audiences’ perception of Bin Laden on its head and goes to the heart of freedom fighter/terrorist dichotomy. We get the low-down on everything from his introduction to theatre-land, writing, his professional collaboration, and friendship with Sam Redway, the slow nature of talent gaining respect in the industry and what Belfast audiences can expect.
Firstly I ask if he comes from a theatrical background? Jones reveals: “Not at all, both my parents are/were research scientists. I had a bit of a stammer when I was younger and at around the age seven, it was suggested to my mother to take me along to a youth drama group. I got really into it, loved it and never really looked back.”
A quick nosy on the internet and a browse of Jones’ CV reveals he graduated from Cambridge in 2010 after reading politics, psychology, and sociology, all the while immersing himself in many of the university’s drama societies. I ask why he didn’t choose to study drama or theatrical studies? Jones answers: “I did think about going to drama school when I was 18 and I think the big reason I was particularly interested with studying at Cambridge was because the theatre scene there is quite amazing but I was always really interested in politics so I decided I was going to do an academic subject. I think I was persuaded to do that by family and parents but when I got to Cambridge I found I could combine the two. Things I was studying in politics were relevant to the theatre and live performance, particularly political theatre. I think Bin Laden is a great example of where politics and theatre come together. The reason why we’re able to research the topic so thoroughly was because of the research techniques and the academic skills I learned from studying politics.”
Not surprisingly, Jones and lead actor of Bin Laden Sam Redway met in a politically charged environment. He says: “It was 2011 and my first job after university and it was a huge, immersive show in Plymouth involving a mixed company of refugees and asylum seekers, youth theatre groups from the city and a small number of professionals, Sam happened to be one of them. We talked a lot about politics and the world. We also just happened to move to London at the same time and we started writing together.”
Jones had stints with The Barbican Theatre, tours of an early production of Bin Laden: The One Man Show, co-director at The University of London, Birkbeck College and two years with the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I ask him to tell more of the genesis of Bin Laden: The One Man Show and of his approach to writing? He explains: “Well, Sam – co-founder of Knaive Theatre Company – and I wrote it together. We, first of all, sat in a library for three weeks reading everything we could on Bin Laden, his associates and trying to get both western and eastern perspectives on all of that. We had a big piece of cardboard, I think we found it in a skip, which we rolled around a wall and we put every event we had read about and every event we thought was important to the story and spent a lot of time arguing about, well not arguing, but debating what was the most important bits of the story.”
“Eventually we came to the conclusion that really the period before 9/11 was the most important because we all know what happened after. We thought about representing his death, which was one of the prompts for writing the piece, but decided that 9/11 was the moment the world changed. What people don’t fully understand is what came before that, so we started with Bin Laden aged 17 with him meeting his wife, Najwa, and getting married and having a child and started to think about what the world is like for that child and that happens to coincide with the Iranian revolution. We take it from that moment in 1979 until 2001. Once we decided that was the narrative we went to a rehearsal room in the middle of Yorkshire somewhere, I don’t think it even had internet so there were no distractions. I would write, then Sam would try it out and we’d then edit it together. As things evolved over time, there are some scenes which Sam has added quite a bit too. Being the actor he knows instinctively what needs to happen, so it’s very much a collaborative effort.”
With shows as far afield as Mexico, LA and Denmark, I ask why it’s taken so long to cross the Irish Sea? “We tried but it takes time for people to work out what’s good. What we had in 2013 was pretty good but it’s grown and matured with us and is now more sophisticated. I think we’ve matured as makers. We’ve both done masters, Sam with acting at RADA, mine in directing at London University. We wanted to work together again and after forming the company in 2015 Sam suggested we do Bin Laden again and take it to America. That was the one thing we never did. Sam searched the internet and saw there was a fringe festival in Hollywood coming up. So at that point, though it had won a couple of awards, we as a company weren’t recognised as being a big thing. We had a show under our belts and not much more than that.”
“We launched this massive Kickstarter campaign and raised about five grand and got some money from the Arts Council and when we said we were taking the show to America they all pricked up their ears and came to see the show and said: “It’s great.” That’s how the relationship with the Royal Exchange in Manchester happened and we’ve been there for a year now as supported artists. We toured the UK and theatres began seeing us as being legitimate; which just didn’t happen before. Now we have the stamp of approval from an established institution, people think, ‘Oh, they must be good’.”
“I believe the guys from the MAC saw us in Edinburgh during that tour, liked us, but were all booked up for the autumn season so they booked us for the spring. As for what you can expect in Belfast. It starts with a little bit of comedy but then it twists the knife pretty quickly. It does lull you into a false sense of security. We have an hour on stage then we have a 30 to 45-minute question and answer session. We’re very excited to be bringing the show to Northern Ireland!”
Bin Laden: The One Man Show runs at the MAC from 20 -21 April 2018.
For booking details visit www.themaclive.com or phone the box office on 02890 235053.