Trojan Horse – Traverse

Trojan Horse is a play based on a real-life islamophobic scandal.  It began with a leaked letter about the government-run ‘Operation Trojan Horse,’ which aimed to closely inspect Muslim governors and teachers, who were suspected of plotting extremism in their schools. The play tells the effect this had on a Muslim-majority Birmingham school, including the forced resignation of its Muslim governor and deputy headteacher. Telling the story through the eyes of queer Muslim female students (one of whom is a protagonist), a Muslim governor and deputy headteacher, as well as the white inspectors and governors, the play is about institutional islamophobia and its real, tangible consequences. 

The all-brown cast are brilliant; even as they play a range of characters – white or brown – these characters are not one bit unbelievable. Audiences are never left confused by the identity of the characters, signposted by costumes the cast whip out and wear from school desks.

The strength of the play comes from its display of countering narratives; the white islamophobic perspective versus the perspective of Muslim students and staff, the latter used to counteract arguments of the former. This leads to an effective, persuasive demonstration of how islamophobia is petty and illogical, yet dangerous – perhaps the real trojan horse is islamophobia itself.

The play also constantly gestures towards their Urdu-speaking audiences. This is because Urdu permeates the play: from the scene changes, which involve both Urdu and English titles projected onto the chalkboard, to Urdu being spoken during Urdu class scenes or scenes where the protagonist interacts with her mother. The audience comes in with leafleted information about the play’s Urdu audio translation, showing that the play makes an effort to include their Urdu-speaking audiences. It’s a reminder that the play isn’t just warning non-muslims about the impact of islamophobia on Muslims, but it’s also a deeply personal story to the Muslim community. 

There are interesting uses of humour in an otherwise serious play but the humour is more of a comic relief rather than going overboard, avoiding straying from or invalidating the serious matter at hand: Islamophobia and its harmful consequences. 

The Q & A at the end had ex-staff who were affected by the scandal speak. It’s heart-breaking to listen to their story, after the play shows exactly how their personal efforts to not fail any of their working class Muslim students (leading to a low-achieving school becoming a high-achieving one) were in vain, as their forced resignation led to the school’s achievement going back to square one. The scandal also left them with a financial burden and permanent trauma from the islamophobia they experienced from the educational institution. 

The play leaves the audience with many thoughts to process, but also ended with panellists urging the audience to sign a petition to challenge islamophobia. Gone are the days where we watch plays about marginalisation and do nothing; it’s about time that we actively challenge bigotry. 


PHOTOS: Ant Robling

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Shin Woo Kim

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