The Glass Will Shatter (Omnibus Theatre)

The Glass Will Shatter looks at the effects of the government’s Prevent strategy on one case, eight years ago, in a London school. With a cast of three, a text which is projected onto boards, a glass screen and some unusual light work by Will Monks, Joe Marsh’s play clearly has something to say about the strategy, but ultimately does not explore the issues in enough depth.

Amina (Naima Swaleh) is a young Somalian schoolgirl, Rebecca (Josephine Arden) is a newly appointed white teacher. In a school mainly populated by the displaced and the immigrant, Rebecca struggles to control her class and becomes intimidated by her pupil. Eventually she becomes worried about Amina’s apparent interest in the actions of jihadi groups and follows what she thinks is her duty of care under Prevent.

I’m familiar with the legal obligations of Prevent after a previous career in academia: one is expected to report any concerns about a student acting in an a way that suggests possible grooming by terror organisations. It’s a method of safeguarding, but it is far from perfect. It is also true that some schoolchildren have been exposed to dangerous ideology and acted upon it.

Naima Swaleh as Amina, Josephine Arden as Rebecca in The Glass Will Shatter
Naima Swaleh as Amina, Josephine Arden as Rebecca in The Glass Will Shatter

The Glass Will Shatter suffers from having no characters which an audience can like or empathise with. Amina may be vulnerable, but her behaviour in class makes her more than the school clown; she’s obnoxious and hostile. I wanted to understand her but she never let us near.

Rebecca is inept and patronising and clearly in the wrong role, but her soya lattes and hot yoga make her a figure of derision for us. Even the department head, Jamilah (Alma Eno), is cold and condescending, at one point pacifying her employee with Haribo sweets as if she is just another child in her care.

All fail the Prevent strategy and each other. Realities are explored but not developed: Amina’s revelation about her classmates, Rebecca’s mental collapse due to a lack of concern for her own safeguarding, Jamilah’s unconscious biases against those who question her own ideology. The words unspoken just can’t break through.

Naima Swaleh as Amina in The Glass Will Shatter
Naima Swaleh as Amina in The Glass Will Shatter

I found The Glass Will Shatter a troubling play in a climate where, on the very day I saw it, a young man recently released from prison for terror offences had gone on a rampage with a knife just two miles away from the Omnibus Theatre. A warped sense of entitlement made him seek to be a martyr.

It is true that not every person of another race or faith is a danger, but this play raised more questions than answers for me, in its clear delineation between who was “right” and who was “wrong”.

The performances may be strong, the creative captioning innovative, and the tech spectacular, but I wanted a play which explored difficult issues without resorting to a final confrontation which felt forced and underwritten.

The Glass Will Shatter runs at the Omnibus Theatre until 8 February. Images by Sam Elwin. Directed by Lilac Yosiphon.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see The Glass Will Shatter.