The war in Iraq has a lot to answer for, not least an endless stream of Iraqi war plays flooding the market since Black Watch. The London stage is awash with maladjusted returning soldiers, political savants, undercover agents and propaganda broadcasters.
Now the trendy HighTide Festival in Suffolk – supported by Sir David Hare, Sally Greene, Diana Quick and Nicholas Hytner (and Nick's mum, fund-raiser Joyce) – has perpetrated a lively promenade performance in a Shepherd's Bush shopping centre (the smaller one, opposite Westfield) that puts the mockers on the private security racket.
Presented by the Bush Theatre and the National, Adam Brace's scenario is one of pursuit and enquiry in the back streets of Ammam after one of the British security agents, Eddy (Niall Macgregor) goes missing and former soldier and good friend Alan Dobbs (Shaun Dooley) wants to know why and where. He runs into a series of brick walls and goes a bit potty before ending up in a street shoot-out and then a Welsh chapel commemorating another army friend who burnt to a cinder in his armoured vehicle.
It's all hectic stuff, sometimes hard to follow, played out in a grim and unlovely underground maze of interlocking bunkers where the audience is directed after assembling in one of the shopping centre's unoccupied units. We are herded into a Rebuild Iraq Conference and lectured by "the original soldier of fortune" on the importance of private security companies. The sirens wail after Alan and Eddy sign up, and we're bundled into a nasty airport run in Baghdad, then back to Ammam for the story proper.
For the next ninety minutes we shuffle meekly into hotel bars, training centres and city offices with the half-engaged curiosity of privileged voyeurs at one almighty admin and military cock-up. "Stovepipe" means a weapon's malfunction, and the metaphor applies both to the Iraqi security situation and, I'm afraid, Michael Longhurst's production, which mixes some well-written scenes with too much incomprehensible action bluster.
You always end up studying the audience in these situations, too, or worrying about where you're standing and if you're in the right spot to get to the next one. Still, it's a novelty if you've never been to a promenade performance or, I guess, Iraq, before.
To to 26 April (0207 452 3000; www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/stovepipe)