Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy


Dean joined the Army, Danny joined the Islamic State. Bismillah! is their time together as captive and guard.

Set in 2015 in a basement in Northern Iraq, and described as ‘bold and thought-provoking’ by Mark Lawson in the
Guardian, Bismillah! uses humour and compassion to approach an incredibly vital discussion around the experiences of disenfranchised young people in modern Britain.

This hilarious and heartbreaking production examines the impact of racial, social, economic and religious politics on youth in society. It’s a show which tackles huge contemporary issues: from rising social tensions and the fall out of interventionist foreign policies to working in Weatherspoons and the ever-rising price of a standard meal deal.

Bismillah! stormed the Fringe during it’s critically acclaimed run at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival. Here it was listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award and was endorsed by Nihal Arthanayake on the BBC Asian Network. Since its Fringe run the show has been in development with Sevan Greene at London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East. VAULT Festival marks the show’s London theatrical debut.

★★★★★ “Side Splitting & Touching…One of the best shows I have ever seen” – Broadway Baby
“Bold & Thought Provoking” – Mark Lawson, The Guardian
★★★★ “Powerful, Hilarious & Gripping” – The List
★★★★ “The Balance of Tragedy Perfectly” – Thrifty Theatre Thinker

Post Show Talk – Wednesday 28th February
Taking the Terror out of Terrorism: Tackling Islamophobia through Comedy

Straight after our performance on Wed 28 Feb, we’ll host a 30 minute talk in which Dr Sarah Ilott discusses ways in which comedy works to take the terror out of terrorism by opening up a topic often discussed only in panicked and hyperbolic terms by the mainstream press. Sarah considers how addressing social taboos – around terrorism and Islamophobia – enables comedies to challenge stereotypes, laugh off fears, and create new communities based on shared laughter at flawed systems. Sarah discusses Bismillah! alongside other recent film and TV comedies that represent Muslims in subversive ways, before interviewing Matthew Greenhough about some of the research he did and decisions he made as a playwright.

Sarah is a lecturer in literature and film at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is the author of New Postcolonial British Genres and the editor (with Dr Helen Davies) of a forthcoming collection on Comedy and the Politics of Representation. She has published widely in the area of comedy studies, both in academic publications and in The Conversation.

The Cavern Triple Bill – Save 20% on two shows, or 30% on all three, when booking for nest by Katy Warner, Father of Lies, and Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy. Simply add a ticket to each show into your basket to take advantage of the offer.
1hr 15m
The Vaults
28 Feb — 04 Mar 21:00
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About the company

Wound Up Theatre

Wound Up Theatre are a platform for socially and politically aware comedic theatre; facilitating discussion, challenging ideas and providing new perspectives on issues affecting youth in the UK.

We create unique plays with a punch. And yes, we’re a bit funny too. Wound Up Theatre are traditionally subversive and seriously comical.

The company was founded in 2013 by Matthew Greenhough, who had previously enjoyed international success as a theatre maker winning the Main Prize at Dioniz International Theatre Festival in Croatia with the piece: “In Our Hands”.

Wound Up’s first production was “Delusions Of Adequacy” which followed a young northern man struggling on benefits. Developed at Northumbria University, it was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 and enjoyed a sellout run on the PBH Free Fringe.

Our second production was 2015’s production original staging of “Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy”. And following its success Wound Up were invited to lecture at “Mock the Weak – Comedy and the Politics of Representation”, an academic conference at Teeside University in September 2016.

In 2017 Wound Up returned to the Edinburgh Fringe with ‘#VILE: The Untimely Demise of a Manufactured Pop Star’, a one-man show which explored the psychological impact of contemporary media. It chronicled the social media-induced breakdown of a D-list celebrity and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from audiences.

We are very excited to be making our VAULT debut with a restaging of ‘Bismillah! An ISIS Tragicomedy, directed by Jonny Kelly 2018.

Artistic Team
Matthew Greenhough
Directed by
Jonny Kelly
Sofi Berenger
Matthew Greenhough
Elliot Liburd

Press & Reviews

Broadway Baby ★★★★★

“Brilliantly acted and superbly written, Bismillah! is one of the best shows I have ever seen at the Fringe or anywhere else. Matthew Greenhough’s side-splitting and touching script shows us an hour in the life of Dean (Greenough), a British Army soldier being held prisoner in an Iraqi basement guarded by ISIS mujahid “Danny” (Nate Birdi). The tone shifts dramatically moment by moment through the banal, the quietly horrifying, and the near-unbearable tension of their fight for dominance, but skilful writing means beat changes never feel clunky or unnatural.

The questioning of both characters’ motives for engaging in the conflict that has led to the play is probed informatively and with great sensitivity through the course of this dazzlingly intelligent script. Greenhough has clearly researched contemporary academic views on terrorism, so much so that the character of Danny should almost come with a citation to the work of political scientist Professor Louise Richardson. That is the intellectual level on which this show is operating.

…a message so obviously rooted in present-day issues… This is a fiercely intelligent, masterfully acted theatrical treat, which prompts tears of both laughter and sympathy.”

The List ★★★★

“Wound Up Theatre Company tackle ISIS in this outstanding tragicomedy

A comedy about Islamic State might seem to be in bad taste, given the atrocities currently being carried out by them across the world. Yet, in only their second outing at the Fringe after a successful debut with Delusions Of Adequacy back in 2013, Wound Up Theatre have produced a piece of theatre that is sharply written and mesmerisingly performed…

…Powerful, hilarious and gripping – the comedy does not obscure the high stakes of the content. Bismillah! is a daring testament to what a small company can achieve with a bit of talent, intelligence and heart.”

The Guardian

“…Two bold and thought-provoking new plays feature British characters on different sides of the divide. In Matthew Greenhough’s Bismillah! An Isis Tragi-Comedy, Dean, a British soldier taken hostage by Isis, discovers that “Ameen”, his jailer, was originally Danny, a Londoner who has come to fight for the caliphate. The tension comes from whether Dean can find enough common culture to prevent Danny casting him as the star of a beheading video...”

The National

“The young men are talking in an Iraqi basement, but it could have easily been an English pub: Dean comes from Leeds, while Danny speaks with a London accent, a geographical rift no less divisive than their opposing views of ISIS.

“In England, there’s a silly rivalry between the north and the south,” says Matthew Greenhough, who wrote Bismillah! and plays Dean. “I wanted to reframe it alongside the differences between the Middle East and the West: to show that these are all labels.”
Directed by Justin Murray, the production by London’s Wound Up Theatre, which is running this week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a witty take on a number of topical issues, including the alienation of modern youth from society, the lack of understanding between cultures, racism, Islamophobia and the threat of radicalisation.
With hundreds of Britons fighting for ISIL and the UK government considering air raids against the extremist group in Syria, the show couldn’t be more timely.

On the eve of its Fringe premiere, British extremists boasted of a plot, masterminded by ISIS commanders, to attack an event marking the end of the Second World War and bomb Britain’s Queen Elizabeth… No one in the theatre company has any personal experience with radicalism, although the writers did their research to make sure they get the religious references right. “While I can’t understand the draw of ISIS,” says Greenhough, “I can understand very well the disaffection with society that many young people in Britain feel today, and that’s what drives them to this choice. I don’t think this disaffection is unique to
any one creed, religion or race.”…

…Asked what the play hopes to achieve, Greenhough says: “We wanted to to celebrate the idea of personal freedom and things that unify rather than separate.”

But the creators of Bismillah! don’t expect to find any ready solutions to what has grown into a serious social problem in the West.

“We are not trying to preach – we want to be part of a dialogue,” says Greenhough. Laughing with the audience, you realise that the dialogue has already started, and you are part of it.”

Audience Reviews

Anne Walshe
Outstanding writing and performance tucked away on Cowgate - two young men whose lives have taken very different paths find they are not so different after all as they start to question the decisions that have brought them both to a basement in Iraq. As thought provoking as it is laugh out loud funny, Bismillah is a fantastic piece of theatre and an absolute must see show.

John Leslie Pike
Saw the show today 12/8. Exhilarating and totally engaging. It helps one understand why western neo-liberalism is another religion and why it is divisive. The actors were compelling, the script fast moving. One has to see it and experience it alongside the phenomenal actors

Angela J
Absolutely brilliant. I think all those considering joining a fundamentalist organisation must see this play first. It's funny, shocking and poignant. Actually makes me proud to be British with our institutions such as Wetherspoons and Chicken Cottage. Go and see it and you will get the joke. Three brilliant actors, this production needs to tour the country.

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