The MAC, Belfast
20 April 2018
It’s safe to assume that everyone knows who Osama Bin Laden was, and by extension the cultural impact that his actions have had on the Western world. It was this man who made Americans first truly fear terrorism on a national level, ushered in two new wars in the Middle East, ensured a certain Simpson’s episode would never be shown again, and forced changes to the endings of both Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and Metal Gear Solid 2.
But who was the man himself? What drove him to commit the atrocities in the name of Islam? Where did the hatred come from?
Sitting in the front row of a packed out theatre in Belfast’s trendy Metropolitan Arts Centre these were the questions that I was here to have answered.
I have to commend the team in Knaïve Theatre for even taking on the subject matter, in some circles it would be called defending the unthinkable, but they’ve successfully pulled off a show that is poignant, funny, intelligent, very entertaining.
Told in the form of a motivational speech and with all the flair of a Hollywood hero we follow the journey of a young man caught up in protest of the communist puppet-government in Afghanistan. Thus begins an odyssey from the Soviet invasion to the disenfranchisement with the post-Soviet world, and the plan to build an Islamic State not subject to the US, Russia, or the Muslim leaders who had been too happy to sell out their people for personal enrichment.
With no apologies and fearless in its performance the story charts the highs and lows of a life on a collision course with the world around it.
It’s worth remembering that there are two sides to every story and sometimes that means facing uncomfortable truths about the world we live in, and in such a place though the acts of murder can never be justified the events leading to them can at least be understood.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show is brave in the subject matter it tackles, it’s funny in its presentation, and it’s thought provoking in the questions it asks about the foreign policies of the West.
Worth every moment of its runtime and beyond, Bin Laden: The One Man Show is an inspired piece of theatre that will make you ask yourself, what can I do to change the world?
This is a freelance review written for an evening in the Black Box Theatre, Belfast in February 2017 as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival. Unfortunately for myself the review was not used, however I do heartily recommend that if you ever have the opportunity to attend an event with Professor Solomon that you jump at the opportunity.
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When he first took to the stage in the trendy Black Box Theatre, Belfast, what struck me most about Professor Tom Solomon was that he had the quintessential look of a scientist - tall, lean, bespectacled.
I was soon to learn that Tom is a charming and charismatic man who took some ‘squiffy’ technical issues in his stride to engage and regale the audience, during his event, “An Unexpected Evening with Roald Dahl’s Doctor", part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival.
Tom talked with obvious affection about the night on call, 25 years ago, as he was hunched over his computer and the patient who kept slowly walking by for a nosy at the research he was writing up. It was his first encounter in which Tom was to learn that Roald Dahl was much more than the author of books that generations have grown up loving.
Sipping from a glass of wine Tom captured the packed audience with the remarkable early years of Dahl’s life, you may recognise some of the tales from ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’ for as we were to discover the events of his life greatly influenced his writing, and in a way this helped the author to deal with them.
The hard times of his life were also the inspiration behind Tom’s new popular science book, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine; from the accident in New York that made him the driving force behind a neurosurgeon and a toymaker to develop a new valve for the treatment of hydrocephalus for his son, Theo; to the tragic passing of his daughter Olivia at only 7 years old from measles encephalitis that spurred him to become a major advocate for measles immunisation at home and abroad, contributing to thousands of lives saved.
And when Dahl’s first wife Patricia Neal suffered a stroke the author and his family, friends and neighbours worked tirelessly in an effort to rehabilitate her, that started a medical revolution in stroke therapy and became a keystone in the Stroke Association. The codes of speech Dahl had recorded from Patricia to better understand what she was trying to say formed the basis of the idiosyncratic speech of that much beloved character, the BFG.
Tom spoke of these things with a mixture of wit, compassion, and at times I dare say reverence, though there was also a bit more risqué humour from Dahl’s short stories served with a cute little cocktail called the William and Mary, I won’t spoil the surprise.
Before I finish I must mention the book written by Tom ‘Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Medicine’ gives greater insight than could be covered in our intimate evening’s chat. Most importantly as with Dahl’s oft noted altruism, all royalties of Tom’s book will go to charities that work in areas of interest to Dahl.
So how do I close about a fantastic, entertaining, educational, poignant, sometimes tragic but deeply wonderful evening of anecdotes about an author whose legacy lives on like a whiffsy time-twiddler?
When asked by a member of the audience how he felt about Roald Dahl, Tom Solomon replied simply, “I loved him.”