Swedish terrorist electrifies theatre stage

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Swedish terrorist electrifies theatre stage

Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri's play I Call My Brothers has taken the Stockholm theatre scene by storm - the tale of a young man's struggle to figure out how an Arab-Swedish terrorist trying to bomb Stockholm in 2010 affects him - because superficially, they look alike.


A bomb has gone off in central Stockholm. At a nightclub, Amor is dancing drunkenly by himself, and ignoring the persistent calls from his best friend who wants to talk about the failed suicide attack... in the end, Amor finds out. Hungover and depressed, he does not know what to do, or to feel.

Yet an array of friends are there to help. In some ways, Amor, played by Shebly Niavarani, is not the star of the play. He is instead a kind of tortured narrator who sucks in information from the people surrounding him. He is the whiteboard for their scribbles, beautifully moulded in the hands of director Farnaz Arbabi.

Niavarani's sister Shima Niavarani takes on the role of his cousin Asal. She has turned to hippie slogans about love and life that anger the main character more than anything. Or do they? Marall Nasiri - who is less slap-stick but no less funny than Shima Niavarani - is the childhood friend who has escaped Stockholm to get away... but get away from what?

Bahador Foladi excels as the lovable best friend Shavi - the "I don't give a damn if I get bad grades in school because I'm gonna start a business and start a family", a contrast to Amor's status-climbing efforts.

And therein lies the crux. How far can you climb on the status ladder if you have a foreign-sounding name, you speak ghetto Swedish, and your five o'clock shadow is worse than Homer Simpson's... and how far are you allowed to be yourself, when the risk is always that you are clumped together with other so-called non-ethnic Swedes into a big contourless otherness?

"Go represent!" is the first wave of advice heaped on Amor. He contorts himself into conformity, taking advice on how to walk in a non-threatening manner, but ends up looking sillier than John Cleese in Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks.

All this in order to do two completely contradictory things. A) Be anonymous. B) Be a poster child for the successful, happy, polite, non-threatening immigrant.

It's both ridiculous and painfully poignant when Amor turns into a clown, frog-marching across the stage. It shows how stereotyping deprives the individual of the right to have a bad hair day, to be grumpy, to wear a stained shirt by mistake. Because everything you do or say reflects not only on you, but the group. And that that group is in itself an illusion.

The group is never defined in any way in the play, which appears to be part of the point. There are "Swedes" and there are "immigrants" - a dividing line that sharpens, at least in the protagonist's eyes, on that day when a homegrown terrorist bled to death in the mushy snow on Bryggargatan in central Stockholm.

So - shave your beard, ditch the Palestinian scarf, make sure you look presentable (and representable).

Represents, he does, our main man. He is a natural science wunderkind - the sparkly example of academic success despite being born with a name that isn't Sven Svensson. He is a loveable nerd - nicknaming his friends after the elementary table - and he gets into the Royal Institute of Technology.

Yet there is turmoil. His private life is less put together. A lot of people he needs have left him - for various reasons - and none of them can quite help him piece together how he feels about the terror attack.

In fact, the words terror and terrorist are never uttered in the play. They're just there, like a silent threat, or the silence left behind after someone exhales violently. It's what you could be called if you forget to shave, or if you happen to walk in a dodgy manner, or if you get on the tube with a slightly "too big" rucksack, or if you fail to leave your checkered scarf at home.

By never mentioning the word terrorist, the word terror instead permeates the entire play.

Amor feels terror.

As the actors exited the stage at Stockholms stadsteater, the young woman sitting next to me was crying.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here


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