True drama of Jane Fonda's Vietnam days

Was the actress a peace activist or a traitor? A new play tells the real story of 'Hanoi Jane'
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The Independent Culture

A play debuting at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is aiming to "set the record straight" about the Oscar-winning screen star Jane Fonda and her involvement in a controversial 1970s protest against US military involvement in Vietnam.

Fonda became known as "Hanoi Jane" after being photographed laughing and clapping with North Vietnamese soldiers and sitting on an anti-aircraft gun in 1972, while the conflict was still raging.

Fatal Attraction star Anne Archer is playing the actress in The Trial of Jane Fonda, which opened on Friday in The Assembly Rooms. It focuses on a little-known event in which Fonda confronted a room of 26 Vietnam veterans who had protested during the production of her film Stanley & Iris in 1988.

The play's award-winning writer-director, Terry Jastrow, has long been fascinated by Fonda, interviewing her over four days about her Vietnam protests and tracing her trip across the country.

"The play sets the record straight [by revealing] what Fonda actually did", he said. "We want the audience to decide: was she a peace activist or a traitor? I realised that what many people hate her for, not only did she not do, but it would be impossible for her to do it."

Fonda became a standard bearer for the anti-war movement during the conflict between the US and Vietnam. The most controversial moment was her trip to Hanoi, where she spent 14 days and met US prisoners of the war. She subsequently apologised for the pictures, saying she was "an exhausted and emotional wreck" and called the moment a "two-minute lapse of sanity that will haunt me forever".

Mr Jastrow said: "Legend has it that the prisoners slipped her notes, which she then handed to the Vietcong, who tortured them."

While researching in archives in Vietnam, Mr Jastrow stumbled upon footage that disproves the story. He said: "I got footage no Western eyes had ever seen. The prisoners never got closer than 10 feet away. It's not true that they handed her notes. It was impossible. Yet she did say things that were controversial."

Ms Archer, who is Mr Jastrow's partner and is appearing for the first time at the Fringe, said: "It's those made-up stories that directed so much hatred towards her. She is still controversial, which is ridiculous. There's so much hate on the internet."

The play was written in 2011, but only ever performed as a workshop in Los Angeles. Julius Green, a theatre consultant with Bill Kenwright's company, wanted to bring it to London in 2012 but the Olympics had created a "serious logjam of plays".

Under Mr Green's stewardship the creative team became more aware of the importance of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a springboard for productions.