Act of war: Robbins's anti-Bush satire takes to the stage in London

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The Independent Culture

When the actor Tim Robbins was publicly vilified in the US for his fierce condemnation of the war in Iraq, he responded the way he knew best.

When the actor Tim Robbins was publicly vilified in the US for his fierce condemnation of the war in Iraq, he responded the way he knew best.

He wrote and directed a savagely satirical play, Embedded, which attacks the neo-conservative policymakers in Washington and challenges the wisdom of having journalists working alongside military forces on the ground.

After developing the piece with the Actors Gang, the radical theatre company Robbins co-founded in Los Angeles 23 years ago, the show went on to be a sell-out success in its home city and then New York.

Now the play is coming to the UK, where it will run for seven weeks at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, west London, from Tuesday. Robbins, of The Shawshank Redemption and an Oscar winner this year for his role in Mystic River, arrives today to direct the production, which retains nearly all its 13-strong original cast.

VJ Foster, one of its stars and a friend of Robbins since the early days of the Actors Gang, said yesterday that the company was thrilled to be bringing it to Britain.

"Everybody is very excited about being able to perform something that is so relevant, that matters to people," he said. "In Los Angeles and New York we got a great reaction from audience members after the show and even on the streets outside where people were begging for more theatre like this, that prompts debate and discussion.

"It will be terribly interesting to do it here. The producers thought there would probably be an audience for it in London. It will be great experience for our actors to bring a play that might have resonance and find a sympathetic ear. We don't know whether it will, but we'll see."

The play takes place in a fictional oil-rich rogue state called Gomorrah that is ruled by the Butcher of Babylon. As US troops invade, the journalists working alongside them are portrayed caving in to military authority, personified by their "minder" Corporal Hardchannel, who refers to them as "maggoty journalists". Key political figures such as Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, appear scarcely disguised as Rum-Rum and Woof.

Although concerned for the troops themselves, Robbins questions the Pentagon strategy of "embedding" journalists with the military and argues for the public's right to hear bad news as well as the heroics.

"The media effectively acted as a publicist for the administration, reporting press releases from the Pentagon as front-page news and marginalising and ignoring any voices of dissent," Robbins has said.

Foster said public response to the play had not been venomous even from those who disliked its politics, but Robbins himself, and his wife, the actress Susan Sarandon, have been the subject of personal attacks from the American right, who disapprove of them using their fame for liberal causes.

"In America, if you go against the administration, then they say you must not be patriotic and that you must not love your country. But we love our country, we just think it's going in the wrong direction," Foster said.

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