Arab Chronicles of the Crusades, adapted by Jonathan Myerson

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BBC Radio 4, 1-8 February 2009
This classic serial version of the Crusades was very reminiscent of Ridley Scott's 2004 film Kingdom of Heaven, as it retold the story from an Arab point of view, portraying the Christian invaders as barbaric, untrustworthy and solely interested in expunging the "curse" of Islam from the region. The material seemed especially provocative at a time when the Israelis have been accused of similar atrocities in Gaza.
Myerson constructed the play as a narrative begun by two speakers - one man, one woman - setting the tone for what followed. The story centred around Phiroz (Andrew Lincoln) a merchant gradually sucked into the military conflict even though he had no personal stake in it. Throughout the action everyone seemed only interested in themselves; the Turks of Constantinople tried to exploit different factions in search of financial gain; different Arab tribes refused to form an alliance out of mistrust; while individual families buried their collective heads in the sand, vainly hoping that by doing so the conflict would miraculously go away.
Despite the efforts of individual people bravely standing up to the invading Christians, the Arab resistance gradually crumbled. In a climactic final scene, director Jonquil Panting ingeniously combined short snatches of dialogue interspersed with the occasonal shout or clash of metal to suggest the seriousness of the conflict. 'Normal' speech - or negotiation between Arabs and Christians - was impsssible in a world where violence seemed endemic.
The production ended on a chilling note as the Arabs made it abundantly clear that the Christians' ethnic cleansing initiated a conflict which exists to this day. History offers a good explanation as to why tragedies such as 9/11 or 7/7, or the current conflict in Israel should have taken place.
Myerson's adaptation provided a western take on Arab material, focusing on the idea of individual rather than collective responsibility, and making little out of the role of Allah in Islamic thought. Nonetheless this production had a socio-political edge not often found in classic serials on Radio 4. One can only hope that its consciousness-raising intentions might help to change listeners' perceptions of Arab history and culture.