Aftermath, Old Vic Tunnels, London
Tuesday 13 July 2010
One of the most impressive "verbatim" dramas of the last few years was The Exonerated, which aired the plight of six people wrongfully convicted of murder, and made arguments against the death penalty sound irrefutable.
Now, the American husband-and-wife team behind that show, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, have devised a tapestry of witness from displaced Iraqis that puts flesh and blood on the stories of what people are going through in the political maelstrom of colonial intervention and local administrative muddle.
The business of removing Saddam Hussein and stabilising the country seems to have warped into wrongful persecution, mix-ups between who is Sunni and who is Shiite, and a whole generation losing its birthright.
When Fajer Al-Kaisi as the interpreter says simply that the mere mention of "Baghdad" brings tears to the eyes of exiles, his face bulges with sorrow. There's a similar passion behind the protest of Demosthenes Chrysan's incensed Imam, denouncing the disgrace of Abu Ghraib, or that of the married cooks estranged from neighbours who built their house.
The dank tunnels under Waterloo station, lately colonised by the Old Vic, and rattling with the sound of goods trains overhead, provide a weird atmosphere of desolation. Just as well, as the show itself lacks any real dramaturgical cohesion.
But theatre is sometimes just as powerful when operating as tribunal or debating chamber. And these voices – collated in interviews with 37 Iraqi civilians in Jordan – are well worth hearing if only to heighten awareness about the Iraqi invasion.
Aftermath is presented as part of the Lift festival. The nine actors are ranged simply across the stage on chairs. But Leila Buck's young mother who lost her family in a car bomb reverberates as a symbol of a country stripped of its dignity, stabbed in the heart.
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