It’s a damp and chilly venue, the labyrinthine Old Vic Tunnels underneath Waterloo Station, and it’s a damp and chilly message we hear in Aftermath, a verbatim documentary drama compiled by the creators of The Exonerated, Jessica Blank and Erick Jensen.
The Exonerated was a pitiful plea for the abolition of the death penalty, using the case histories of six innocent victims of the prosecution system. Aftermath has its moments of anger and righteousness, too, but these are less impressive than the quiet, insistent throb of pain and disappointment.
Blank and Jensen interviewed 37 Iraqi refugees in Jordan and have woven together their testimonies of despair and displacement as a result of the ground attacks and sometimes cack-handed attempts at restoring law and stability in a devastated area.
Nine actors sit quietly on the stage and take turns to bear witness, their stories interleaving with no great dramatic momentum, but a deepening revelation of what has been going on behind the headlines. The crux is the interpreter of Fajer Al-Kaisi, who moderates the stories and overlaps in Iraqi and English translation, lending the show an intense authenticity.
As part of LIFT, the New York Theatre Workshop production, directed by Blank, comes with the imprimatur, too, of Amnesty International. You can see why: here is an Imam wrongly imprisoned in Abu Ghraib; there, a married Shiite couple forced to flee after being pressured to inform on Sunni neighbours; and a doleful young mother who stands naked, in effect (though not in reality) after losing her family in a car bomb attack.
How much has been lost can be gauged by the moving account of life in interdenominational Fallujah where there were no hotels; visitors were always guests in the locals’ houses. And the very mention of the word “Baghdad” is enough to bring tears to the eyes of any exile.
We are in danger of becoming over-familiar with the techniques in this sort of drama, but it’s hard not to be moved by the plight of these people, and it’s ironic indeed to hear a theatre director struggle with ideas as how best to communicate his country’s tragedy. Is there any good coming of the situation there? Judging by this show, the prospect is bleak indeed.