Barbican Theatre, London EC2
Opened 14 November, 2007

The radical post-punk/funk/dub outfit The Pop Group once recorded a number entitled "Amnesty International Report On British Army Torture Of Irish Prisoners" whose lyrics were drawn from precisely such a document. Honour Bound, a 70-minute physical theatre/dance piece about Australia's former Guantánamo inmate David Hicks, feels like the same species of work.

No word is ever uttered onstage. Six performers enter in underwear and don the now-iconic orange jumpsuits whilst the sound system plays the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that we are aware how many clauses are being violated in the following account. The sextet then use movement to express torture, humiliation, despair etc whilst we hear testimony from Hicks' parents, assorted reports and indictments of approved physical and psychological pressure techniques such as female interrogators breaking dye capsules in their pants and flicking the supposed menstrual blood over their subject. Still and moving images are projected on to and through the steel cage of the set. Games are played with perspective; several times, the back wall seems to become a floor on which "Hicks" sits or writhes, indicating that he and we literally do not know which way is up. Aerial work is a major component: one player repeatedly winds himself into the air on a couple of straps and falls back towards earth as his parents recount the ups and downs of Hicks' life. A bit too literal, that one.

The piece, conceived and designed by Nigel Jamieson and choreographed by Garry Stewart, is driven by a sense of outrage that the supposed guardians of western civilisation (the title comes from the motto of Camp Delta, "Honour bound to defend freedom") have such practices institutionalised and jealously maintained; it is creative in the images it forms with bodies and light. Like that Pop Group track, it is inventive and impassioned. And like that track it is also, I'm afraid, ultimately rather dull. Such unremitting suffering does not make good theatre, but not because it is unpleasant to watch: at some point we can bear to see no more, true, but part of us has also seen it all too often already for it to continue to make an impact. Sad and shameful as it may be to admit, no amount of infernal originality can stave off outrage fatigue.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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