Interview: The Angry Bairds
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We talk to co-founders of theatre company the Angry Bairds, City MA grads Sophie Foster and Nazish Khan, about paedophilia, being thrown out of printing shops, Nabokov, Jeremy Forrest, Jade Goody, “that feminist stage”, Edinburgh Fringe, Lena Dunham, student apathy, twitter anger, Gossip Girl... Sophie and Naz are the Angry Bairds, and they’re about to hit London’s Vault Festival – a six week celebration of theatre, music and performance, which kicked off underneath the bustle of Waterloo last night. When we meet Naz is fresh from a minor twitter controversy, involving the Liberal Democrats, an offensive cartoon, and the creator of BBC’s Citizen Khan. She quickly explains how Maajid Nawaz, prospective Lib Dem candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn, had the previous day tweeted a picture of Prophet Mohammed and Jesus together and that after seeing the angry reaction she had been “itching to tweet something. This morning after wrestling with it I tweeted to somebody that was really abhorrent with it, saying “Taking great offence is not an indication of having great faith.” After Nawaz and Citizen Khan writer Adil Ray favourite the tweet, she received a message decrying her “Complete and utter liberal response and attempt to silence those that take offence.” But as Sophie points out she has had no death threats as yet, which is a positive. Today the Angry Bairds are also busy with preparations for Vault, in which they will be reprising two plays that they debuted at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Both are poised to cause controversy, although this is of course not their aim – rather it is to open the debate around sensitive issues that many see as divisive. Sophie’s Project Lolita, a satire set in 2020, tells the story of 14-year-old Katie and 28-year-old Joe, who meet and form a relationship online in a climate where a zero tolerance approach to child abuse is being enforced. Naz’s play, Pole Factor, explores the limits of ‘blind obsession’, and includes themes of celebrity, media and Islamophobia, focusing on a non-practising Muslim named Coco and a reality TV competition. Sophie lets me in on the final preparations the set for Project Lolita: “I bought an armchair for £10 last night,” she says. “It’s really hideous... it’s a really garish pattern.” Naz adds: “It’s the shape. It was part of a three-piece suite originally...” So, they’ve got the hideous but setting-appropriate sofa – aside from that, are they ready? There have been changes since the Edinburgh shows, certainly – Naz admits that she used the Fringe as a ‘testing ground’ for what might come next, whilst for Sophie it’s about refining her previous work: “I’ve rewritten a little bit; we’ve both recast,” she says. “We’re a lot more prepared this time I think... my set has changed; I had a really minimal set before. It was literally just a bed and a chair.” And now, of course, there’s the hideously patterned sofa for London audiences to enjoy. Last year’s Fringe was the first they had visited as a company, and having been warned to have as low expectations as possible (including being told that an average audience size is a paltry three people), Naz says receiving good reviews was extremely encouraging: “If we’d gone there and had been playing out to empty audiences every night we probably wouldn’t have been encouraged,” she says. “When you get an audience, when people out there are appreciating your work, and are interested... people would come up to me and Sophie to talk about the play.” It can’t all have been positive, though – considering their plays are about paedophiles and Islamophia... As it turns out, it was a high street printer in Edinburgh who took the most offence – and threw them out of his shop. Naz says that, at first, she thought he was joking – until he became quite stern: “We got great reviews, and obviously the next morning you go and print them out,” she says. “He saw my Pole Factor leaflet, and evidently it’s a Muslim girl on a pole... he printed them out and refused to give them to us. He said he couldn’t do it.” “He said,” Sophie recalls, “I don’t want to help you to promote this play.” He wouldn’t give them to us; he wouldn’t sell them to us... He didn’t even see the play.” Although, naturally, they did invite him along to make his own mind up. But then, it seems to be those who haven’t seen the plays that have been quickest to take offence. Sophie says: “I’ve got a reactionary response from people who haven’t seen it. People said when we were hanging up flyers, “Why would you write about that? Why would I want to go and see something about that?” But when you actually see it, it’s about a lot more than that.” Naz says: “If you write anything with any form of passion, somewhere it’s going to upset someone... it’s easy to typecast and say, “Oh, this is about Muslim extremism.” But they are about people and relationships. Mine is more of a satire on what happens when you follow any form of extremity, whether it’s a relationship, or celebrity... Lolita is more about desperation and loneliness online, and the perils that you face when you’re in a bad place.” Sophie adds: “In that world, you never know who you’re talking to online. Paedophilia is one area that it covers, but it covers a lot of others as well.... I think it’s a controversial subject, but it’s not a controversial play.” What makes them most angry? Naz is clear: “Ignorance makes me angry. People just judging people. We’re all subject to it; we’ve all said stupid things without really knowing. But I just think in this day and age, with the amount of knowledge and information that we have, ignorant opinions, no one actually assessing things properly, is really infuriating.”
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