The MUJU Crew is a unique theatre group formed of Muslim and Jewish performers who get along so well they are about to celebrate their tenth anniversary together. And they're doing so in style with their first main stage production Come In! Sit Down! taking place in their long established home at the Tricycle Theatre.
Salman Siddiqui is one of the Crew's founders and co-director of the current production. Speaking to Londonist about MUJU's origins he says: "I thought, 'Here I am living in London and I don't really have a Jewish friend'. And our communities live so close to each other."
Siddiqui was aware this left his opinions at the mercy of media stories and stereotypes: "The problem is that if you don't know people from other communities you make assumptions." So with little more than wanting to correct this idea in mind, the fledgling youth group started to advertise through community networks inviting performers to workshops at the Tricycle: "We got the word out that we'd be there on Wednesday nights." Then once the performers started working together, Siddiqui says: "We just clicked."
Within the next two years the initiative became a success leading MUJU to register as a charity so they could better continue the work. Since then, MUJU has been a springboard for a range of up-and-coming talent: "One of our founding members Alia Bano went on to win the Evening Standard's most promising playwright award in 2009." The group now also has a partnership with RichMix in East London as they continue to reach out.
Siddiqui considers theatre to be crucial to the 'cultural exchange' MUJU helps facilitate, "Many inter-faith initiatives are about talking. We start by doing and creating something. Through working together friendships emerge and this creates a context of trust and understanding." He adds, "But of course, we do talk too!"
This allows the MUJU Crew to explore difficult and complicated international issues and bring the political back to the personal: "During the period of heightened tension in the Middle East, I think in 2006, we spoke about some of our proceedings going to a humanitarian cause. We started to wonder if by doing so we were 'taking sides'. So we wrote a sketch about a fun-run where raising money for Gaza impacted on the friendships.
"No-one likes being preached to but with comedy you can get people to laugh together. The arts can explore political issues in a way that helps understand them. Even when the political situation is not something we have much control over as individuals."
Humour is at the heart of Come In! Sit Down! featuring a security check-point at Brent Cross and terrorists being de-radicalised through the unorthodox method of yoga classes. It promises to be an evening of fun sketches and music.
Despite the binding ties and friendships that have come out of MUJU and the work done in local London communities, Siddiqui remains grounded about the continuing need for the initiative due to rising Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism: "Unfortunately the need for this dialogue has only increased."
Come In! Sit Down! plays at the Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, 27 Jul-2 Aug, 7.30pm (£12/£10).