Echoes of the past combined with bags of energy fills the Southville stage as Bobak Champion takes us through a gentle hour of what it means to be both Bristolian and Iranian.
I’m Muslamic Don’t Panik, fuses storytelling with clowning, music with the spoken word and strong Hip Hop dance. The beauty of Iran is like an ethereal presence entwined throughout the performance like a mist of heat and spices. During the incoming, we see projected photos, creating a sense of family and togetherness.
The audience is warmly greeted in both English and Farsi. The multi-lingual approach works towards breaking down othering cultural barriers and perceptions of what the Middle East is all about. It’s not hard to understand what’s being said in Farsi, you only need to listen and watch.
The negative perceptions of Western attitudes to Islam and Muslim communities do continue to endure – even in 2023 Bristol. That’s why shows like I’m Muslamic Don’t Panik are really important. It’s an authentic voice telling a lived experience. Sharing stories. Giving us a chance to listen.
Bobak grew up on Stackpool Road, just a stone’s throw from the theatre we are sitting in. It was a very different Bristol back then. Whilst we hear tales of community, friendships and school, there were instances of racism on the street. Flower beds vandalised and planters stolen simply because the family is not White British. It’s a moment which rocks Bobak’s very own identity, one which becomes an embarrassment to him. It leads him to anglicanise his name for some years to Bob.
But solace is found in the Bristol music scene, with Bobak developing a love of Hip Hop, a main theme in the show. On a trip to visit family in Iran, Bobak rediscovers his identity through a shared love of Hip Hop after engaging with two strangers in a park. Even with the cultural divide, Iran being many miles away from Bristol, the things that link us together are very much stronger than the things that don’t.
Bobak is joined on stage for a dance off with guest dancers Desmond ‘Ooze Des’ Masters and Alex ‘Dino’ Griffiths. An audience pleasing and nostalgic Run-DMC moment.
Through a series of characters we understand more about Iranian life meeting Bristol culture. Bobak moves between each character, distinguishing them with dance motifs.
A man in a south Bristol pub encapsulates the racism Bobak has experienced. The bar staff providing context to this brings in links between poverty and racism along with the resurgence of the far right.
Whilst watching footage of people spewing barely intelligible racist bile to a news crew, it is striking that at some point, there has been a complete failure in the education system.
Poverty, cuts, educational failure under a decade of toxic Tory rule, aided by media outlets putting out messages that Muslims are the enemy has alienated and galvanised some young men in other parts of the country to protest about Muslims. Although listening to what they say shows they don’t really know what they are protesting about. Islam has become their enemy but they don’t know why. Likely through the insidious drip feed of news, the internet, politics and Islamophobic action movies selling the idea that being Muslim means being a terrorist.
That stereotype is a million miles away from the breathtaking beauty of Iran. We are shown this through video and drone footage as Bobak builds a poignant soundscape through loop pedals and a performance on sax.
The strongest part of the show is Bobak telling us about his experience of taking part in the first Tehran Marathon. It’s a gripping part. Women had initially been told they would be allowed to run in the marathon. However, as the run was about to commence, women were told they were no longer allowed to do so and were removed from the race. Some women determined to take part hid themselves in amongst the men. Leila was one such woman and it’s her attempt at running this race which becomes so gripping. The story was so compelling I found myself Googling more about the incident afterwards.
The show finishes on a high. Where anger and upset could takeover, bigotry and racism is tackled with humour and Muslamic Ray Guns.
The hour passes by in a trice, leaving you wanting to hear so much more. For those that are able to stay after the show, Persian tea and biscuits are served as part of the performance. The sharing of tea and biscuits a universal sign in Britain that anything is possible.
I’m Muslamic Don’t Panik is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 20 September 2023.
For more information: https://tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/im-muslamic-dont-panik/
Cast and Creatives
Performance, Text and Concept – Bobak Champion
Guest Dancers – Desmond Masters and Alex Griffiths
Dramaturges and Critical Friends – Lizi Patch and James Fogerty
Creative Director – Matt Mulligan
Creative Producer – Hadi Hedayati
Clown Consultant – Holly Stoppit
Lighting Design – Alan Dawson
Artwork and Design – Afi Walker
Photography – Edward Khan
Consultant Producer – Sarah Shead and Spin Arts
Audio Description Consultant – Benjamin Wilson
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