There’s a striking moment in Peaceophobia when the cars – the scene-stealers of Common Wealth’s new show – start speaking back. While one of the performers tries to tell us the history of his beloved VW Golf, a voice from the vehicle interrupts with a chronicle of racism and Islamophobia in Britain. The founding of the BNP. The Bradford riots. The Prevent programme.
There’s a cruel irony here. For Bradford-based performers Ali Yunis, Casper Ahmed and Sohail Hussain – who wrote the show alongside poet and playwright Zia Ahmed – cars are both an escape and an unintended catalyst for harassment. The hours spent painstakingly perfecting their vehicles are a retreat from everyday pressures and prejudices, yet those same cars make these Muslim men a target for police officers and passersby.
For someone who’s not been behind the wheel of a car in a decade, Peaceophobia’s world of car clubs and modified motors is a complete unknown. But even the most car-ambivalent will struggle not to get pulled along by the obvious passion of Ali, Casper and Sohail. Staged in a multi-storey car park and opening with the thrill of a Golf and a Supra driving into the performance space, Peaceophobia seizes brilliantly on the theatricality of the car show.
In between enthusing about their cars, the three recall their many experiences of racist and heavy-handed policing. But in spite of this, the emphasis is on building – whether that’s cars, camaraderie or community. Throughout the show, the performers put together a car in front of us, punctuating scenes with the oddly hypnotic choreography of reconstruction.
Much like modified cars reflect their owners’ tastes and skills, Peaceophobia is built around the interests and talents of its performer-creators. As well as showing off their skill with the cars, they rap, breakdance and speak emotionally about their faith. While this approach challenges stereotypes and plays to the performers’ strengths, it can feel more like a loosely connected series of fragments than a coherent whole. But it’s just about held together by two refrains: the joy of the cars and the constant threat of police harassment.