Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 6 June, 2011

The Tricycle’s “tribunal” dramas, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor from the proceedings of judicial or quasi-judicial hearings, are rightly renowned. This latest is derived from the hearings of an inquiry into the death of an Iraqi man in British military custody in 2003; Sir William Gage’s final report is to be published in September.
And yet these presentations are not, at bottom, intended to elicit responses from us as theatregoers. We do not look for metaphor in either text or staging: Nicolas Kent always shows us matters as naturalistically as possible, even tending towards the banal. (At one point in this piece, Gage grumbles about a BT service problem that has left them temporarily without email services.) Nor do we immerse ourselves in narrative or character in the normal way. There is no need for us to suspend disbelief, because we know that these things have been said by the people portrayed (albeit not by those individuals physically before us), that these events have in fact occurred. Rather, we engage as spectators not to art or entertainment, but to politics and public misfeasance: as citizens, in fact… and it continues to be a telling point that re-enactments like this can provide us with a more meaningful context for live civic engagement than the actual affairs or processes themselves.
Here, then, one can admire Dean Ashton’s performance as Corporal Donald Payne, the first British soldier to be convicted of a war crime under the International Criminal Court Act 2001; Ashton bristles throughout, showing Payne’s barely concealed contempt and aggression towards his questioners. One can be grimly amused by Simon Rouse’s rendering of then-Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram’s inanely evasive replies to repeated straight questions. But the core of this 105-minute presentation – what kept the woman beside me gasping and tutting throughout in outrage – is the reality that, 31 years after the British government publicly forswore the use of interrogation techniques such as hooding and making suspects adopt “stress positions”, these were routinely used by the army in its policing role in Iraq; that systemic uninterest in observing the Geneva Convention and human rights laws led to a climate in which Mousa could be in effect punched and kicked to death, and be found subsequently to have 93 distinct injuries on his body. These are not matters for which performers and theatre-makers are answerable to an audience.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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