Guantanamo - Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, Tricycle, London

The truth about Camp X-Ray - in black and white

The Tricycle in north London has created its own genre of theatre which it calls "tribunal plays", turning the tortuous details of public inquiries (Hutton, Stephen Lawrence etc) into drama. This is theatre as storytelling, in which the characters address the audience directly. Everything depends on the power and truth of the narrative, and in the Tricycle's latest subject - the indefinite detention of hundreds of "unlawful combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - there is no lack of either.

The Tricycle in north London has created its own genre of theatre which it calls "tribunal plays", turning the tortuous details of public inquiries (Hutton, Stephen Lawrence etc) into drama. This is theatre as storytelling, in which the characters address the audience directly. Everything depends on the power and truth of the narrative, and in the Tricycle's latest subject - the indefinite detention of hundreds of "unlawful combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - there is no lack of either.

The set of Guantanamo - Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, populated by listless figures in orange jumpsuits, recreates the sterile "cages" of Camp X-Ray, a place where there is no access to lawyers and no limit to the length of your stay. Thanks to the Tricycle's scaffold seating, the viewer feels like a participant; it is no surprise to learn that Moazzam Begg, one of the British prisoners whose fate is described, is said to have lost his mind. Nor is it hard to understand what it must have been like for the victims of torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

Since no end has been declared to the "war on terror", no tribunal is going to be held any time soon to sift through its rights and wrongs. Instead Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo have taken their words from specially conducted interviews with former Guantanamo prisoners, their families and lawyers, from the letters of those still incarcerated and from the public pronouncements of politicians such as Jack Straw and the egregious Donald Rumsfeld. (No members of the Government were prepared to be interviewed.) What this important piece of theatre brings home is how it feels for the victims and their families to be caught up in the blind, vengeful machinery of a superpower fighting an unknown enemy. Apart from Moazzam Begg, we hear the stories of Jamal al-Harith, a Manchester-born black Muslim who stumbled from a Taliban jail in Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, his bewilderment well portrayed by Patrick Robinson, and Wahab al-Rawi, a British businessman plucked from Gambia to Cuba. Both are now free, but al-Rawi's brother is still in detention, apparently because, in the eyes of the US, his sporting interests qualified him to train terrorists.

There are moments of grim farce as the personal accounts are interlaced with information about the "war on terror" - suicide attempts in Guantanamo appeared to have fallen sharply, for example, until it emerged that they had simply been redefined as "manipulative self-harming behaviour". Britain's complicity in this denial of justice is not neglected; we are reminded that we have our own indefinite detainees at Belmarsh prison in south-east London.

Given the material, there is no need for histrionic acting. The facts literally speak for themselves. What struck me, at the end of an evening which left one stirred, questioning, and with a sense that one could no longer seek refuge in ignorance, was that this was what Bertolt Brecht was trying to achieve with his theories of theatrical alienation. If Brecht was alive today, here is the kind of play he would write.

'Guantanamo - Honor Bound to Defend Freedom': Tricycle, London NW6 (020 7328 1000), to 12 June

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