The Trojan Horse scandal has been described as “the best known and most polarising story about Britain’s relationship with its Muslim citizens” and this August, a documentary play based on over two hundred interviews from over ninety witnesses, including some of the teachers, pupils, parents, and governors involved, will be premiered in Edinburgh, after being shown briefly in London in July, that aims to shed light on it.
The Trojan Horse inquiry looked into the alleged Islamist takeover of a number of inner city schools in Birmingham four years ago. Michael Gove, then education secretary, and Sir Michael Wilshaw, then head of the schools inspectorate, are among those who declined to be interviewed for the production, demonstrating its controversial nature.
Five individual stories are the focus of the play; they come from a pupil, a schoolteacher, a governor, a headteacher, and a Birmingham city council worker. They are set at the Park View academy, which was the main school at the heart of the Trojan Horse allegations, and the play also takes a critical look at the controversial role of the government and Westminster in the affair.
The company producing the play, Lung, previously produced the play ‘Chilcot’, which was based on the government inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the Iraq war. The company’s aim is to “make work with communities, for communities and about communities” which shines a light on social, political, and economic issues.
The effects of the scandal are still being felt in Birmingham. As one of the writers of the play, Helen Monks, observes, “There’s still a lot of fear around everything … when we went to Birmingham it became clear very quickly that it’s ongoing and had not been resolved. People are still incredibly divided about it”. She added, “As soon as we started speaking about something that happened four years ago, people became really emotional about it. The word that kept coming up was trauma – this trauma that has left its mark on the city”.
She says this is one of the reasons why she and co-writer, Matt Woodhead, wanted to create the play; they wanted to get beyond the publicised version of the scandal which focused on extremism and hardline Islamist conspiracies. Research for the play revealed many personal stories, some of which explored the way in which Muslim communities in the city were demonised by the affair. Woodhead said, “We wanted to use this opportunity to give people a voice … The government came in very heavyhanded. People’s careers and lives were ruined. As British citizens, we need to ask what is being done in our name … Because of the way the case was thrown out, they were never really given a voice. Their side of the story was never really told in the media”.
Having grown up in Birmingham herself, Monks said that she had personally felt the impact of the scandal and the way in which it was publicised. She said, “I had such a brilliant experience at school and such a brilliant experience in Birmingham … Most people from Birmingham have this deep-rooted love of the city and love the fact it’s this big melting pot from all different walks of life. To then be told that’s problematic or that multiculturalism has failed – that was not my experience at all”.
Tickets can be purchased here.
Weale, S. (2018) ‘Play shines light on Trojan Horse ‘Islamist plot’ to run schools’. [online] 23 July. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/jul/23/play-shines-light-on-trojan-horse-islamist-plot-to-run-schools?CMP=share_btn_link. [Accessed 4 August 2018].