Why We Tell the Story: In Conversation with Jordan Benjamin

‘Extremism’, which opened this month at Theatre Peckham, is a political play about fear, friendship and the creeping polarisation of our society. In this interview, Jordan and I discuss his role as Assistant Director, the difficult themes raised in Anders Lustgarten’s  play and opportunites for BAME creatives in theatre.

Name: Jordan Benjamin

Role: Assistant Director, Extremism the Play

Favourite Show/Play: Favourite play would have to be The Lion King, I really love a good musical and it was just incredible!

Favourite Part About the Theatre: My favourite part about the theatre is the variety of experience, you can go to different cinemas and watch different films but the experience feels the same. With theatre there’s such a variety that you can go to different theatre’s and watch different shows and have completely different experiences.

Q: Can you tell us what ‘Extremism’ the play is all about?

A: ‘Extremism’ is an intense play which gives us an insight into how social and political issues within society directly impact young people, and this play directly deals with radicalisation, racism and prejudice. A play where viewpoints get pushed to the test and things get pretty heated!


Q: What drew you to work on this show in particular and how has it been different, if at all, from the other projects you’ve worked on before? 

A: I have previously worked with Suzann McLean, the director of Extremism, as the Assistant Director at her theatre company ‘Young and Talented’. This play was an opportunity she wanted to give me to grow and learn more about directing in theatre, which I am incredibly grateful for. This project has been very different because it’s immersive theatre, instead of playing it to the audience, it’s about figuring out how we can bring the audience into our world with us, which I believe we have done incredibly well.

Q: Could you tell us a bit more about your role as Assistant Director and what it’s been like working with Director Suzann McLean to stage Anders Lustgarten’s political play?

A: Working as the Assistant Director with Director Suzann McLean has stretched me in terms of my ability to direct. Suzann continually gives me opportunities to give input and even stage some parts of the play which isn’t something that I have done before. It was very new to me and I’m really glad to have gone through it because I’ve learned so much. As the weeks go by and we started to do some character development, I believed I was a lot stronger and giving more of my input, being an actor myself, character development is something I am experienced in, but the staging part was all about learning and I definitely have.


Q: The themes discussed in the show around radicalisation are topical, and can conjure very polarised views. What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?

A: We don’t only want to educate audiences on the subject of radicalisation and some of the viewpoints surrounding it, we want audiences to learn more about themselves and where they stand on the subject matter, this could be through the emotion evoked from watching the play or seeing themselves in one of the characters within the play. If questions are asked, conversations start and mindsets are open to change, we know we’ve done our job.

Q: This production is being staged with emerging actors who have received bursaries as part of Theatre Peckham’s plan to provide a platform for BAME creatives. Can you tell us a bit more about this initiative and what it’s been like working with this cast?

A: We live in such a multi-cultural city, however still there seems to be limited opportunity for BAME creatives. This is why I love this initiative to allow more creatives to shine which is exactly what they’re doing in this play. I’ve loved working with the cast, such an amazing group of people who aren’t only incredibly talented, but also willing to work and learn.

Q: Finally, what should audiences expect when they come to see Extremism?

A: Audiences should expect to feel something and to question themselves, due to the topics we discuss and the emotions felt. Audiences are also going to be gifted with some incredible talent amongst our actors, expect to laugh and enjoy the banter; but ultimately expect to feel.

Thanks for reading! And thank you to Jordan for the interview. ‘Extremism’ runs until 23 November at the time of writing. https://lineupnow.com/event/extremism-2 

Photo Credit: Raymond Field

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