Out of Joint’s new verbatim drama – based on a year’s worth of interviews and rehearsals undertaken by playwright Robin Soans, director Max Stafford-Clark and their team of actor-researchers – offers a forceful reminder, if one were needed, that the practice of terrorism long predates the so-called “War on Terror”.
On the London press night at the Royal Court, that message, as well as the human toll and proximity of terror, was reinforced by the attendance of Terry Waite. From the stalls, Waite watched as on stage his bearded mirror image (referred to merely as “an archbishop’s envoy” and played with rumpled stoicism by Lloyd Hutchinson) recounted his experience, the lost five years of his life – at the end, the former Lebanon hostage applauded with gusto.
Waite was not alone in being both moved and challenged by the personal testimonies, professional opinions and intellectual arguments presented in Talking to Terrorists by a well-drilled, multi-tasking ensemble. It is potent stuff, and if only for the graphic, hate-fuelled nature of the atrocities, even more emotive and effective than the company’s The Permanent Way, David Hare’s brilliant analysis of the dismantling of British Rail, which was also directed by Stafford-Clark.
And yet it’s very success makes you wish this piece would go even further (though perhaps in slightly less time – at two hours and 20 minutes, you do feel that some of the lengthier monologues and duologues could be abridged). We hear from Irish, Ugandan, Kurdish and Palestinian terrorists reflecting on crimes past, but it’s not until the start of Act Two that 9/11 is brought properly into the discussion. Even still, the Twin Towers attack (and its consequences) that has come to overshadow all else in Westerners’ view of terrorism is addressed only peripherally: an army colonel talks tactics, Luton Muslims react to renewed religious prejudice, a journalist recalls a night spent with Iraqi insurgents, an ex-ambassador voices qualms about torture methods in Bin Laden intelligence gathering.
Interesting, yes, and yet… How much more powerful this play would be if, rather than an in-depth victim/perpetrator head-to-head regarding the IRA bombing of a Brighton hotel during the 1984 Tory party conference, we could talk to Al-Qaeda terrorists and their victims. Perhaps that’s still too fresh for some, but to my mind, Out of Joint’s brave and thought-provoking drama is just the place for it.
- by Terri Paddock (reviewed at the Royal Court)
NOTE: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from April 2005 and an earlier tour stop for this Out of Joint production.
Towards the end of Talking to Terrorists one of the characters in this drama of oral deposition (a programme note calls it verbatim theatre) says: "Reality cannot hide forever. You might as well try and cover the sun with mud". But mud does stick, and trying to wash it off can spread the pollution.
Playwright Robin Soans presents a large cast of people directly affected by terrorism on an international scale. Some are easily recognisable as precise individuals and the circumstances in which they have suffered are simple to recall, even after the passing of three decades. Others suggest the anonymous majority; those mentioned in broadsheet newspapers' in-depth articles or glimpsed in a television news bulletin, lighting on the latest example of man's inhumanity to man.
Or, of course, to woman. Child soldiers who double as sex objects. Schoolchildren politicised by what they see happening to their parents and older siblings as well as to their contemporaries. None of these stories are pretty. They are all in essence true. But the strength of this production is that we can hear of atrocities which sound like the stuff in which mythologies propagate yet abide the listening with unblocked ears and open minds.
It's very well cast. June Watson offers us a gallery of positive and mature women including a former Secretary of State contrasting with the younger victims presented by Chipo Chung and the bystanders portrayed by Catherine Russell. Christopher Ettridge plays a psychologist who doesn't perhaps have as many answers as he would like and a former Cabinet minister.
Lloyd Hutchinson is entirely credible as one of the better-known victims of kidnapping in Lebanon and as an IRA bomber. It’s easy to empathise with Jonathan Cullen's ex-Ambassador and Alexander Hanson's Army colonel, a man who knows that you have to understand your enemy to defeat him properly. Chris Ryman is the exiled Palestinian who knows that he can never return to his family.
The direction, clinically sparse, is trademark Max Stafford-Clark and contained within a set by Jonathan Fensom which blocks the acting area with monolithic concrete barrier slabs. These have the narrowest of navigable gaps in the centre and anonymous swinging doors on either side to remind us that there might be, can be, some sort of normality on this our earth. It is possible, isn't it?
- Anne Morley-Priestman (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds)