The Big Interview: Adam BraceDate: 26 February 2009
Stovepipe is a new play by former journalist Adam Brace based on his experiences during a tour of Amman and the Middle East. It runs at the WEST 12 shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush from 3 March to 26 April 2009, having premiered at the HighTide festival last year (it’s a HighTide production in collaboration with the Bush and National Theatre). Here, the writer talks to Whatsonstage.com about the background and development of the play.
What’s the premise of Stovepipe?
Staff of a Private Military Company are passing through Amman en route to Baghdad when one of their number goes missing in Amman. His oldest friend defies protocol to stay and look for him.
Where did the inspiration come from?
When I lived in South Korea, I would play football on Saturdays in an organised league. The team, Seoul St Patrick’s, was run by Irish ex-pats, but had a large contingent of soldiers from the United States Army who have a base in Seoul. Some were biding their time until they had accrued enough service experience to get a good job in the Corporate Military sector. As far as they were concerned, if they were going into harm’s way, they would rather do it for ten times the money.
I returned to live in London and took a Masters degree in Playwriting at Goldsmiths, where my tutor John Ginman encouraged me to follow my interest in private military companies and the guys who do the job.
I spent the last of the money I’d saved in Korea on a trip to Amman, staying in the cheapest hotel I could find – Hotel Baghdad. In the days I walked around the city and checked out the preparations for the Rebuild Iraq Conference; in the nights I would go to the bars of the five star hotels where the ‘mercs’* drank. After a couple of abortive attempts, I befriended some British and Canadian PMCs. Over the next two weeks, I went on overnight drinking bouts with guys who were either on their way to Iraq or on their way home. We passed through all the western bars in Amman, through Russian-run brothels and Egyptian-run gambling joints, and most of the time we didn’t talk about Iraq or the war or the job at all. Most of the details in the play come from dryer forms of research, but the time I spent in Amman was invaluable.
* ‘merc’ is short for Mercenary, and it’s in ‘’s because as a term it has ramifications. It’s pretty pejorative when describing Private Military Contractors - although like many pejorative epithets, it gets embraced by some of the people it’s intended to disparage. It’s also not strictly correct, a Mercenary is by definition someone who fights for money and not patriotism or any other supposedly more noble causes. Most PMCs don’t fight, they are security guards or bodyguards. This doesn’t mean they don’t kill people, but they are not aggressively deployed.
What’s the meaning of the title?
It’s a type of firearms malfunction. It occurs when shooting a rifle with a limp wrist, causing the muzzle to rise excessively, in turn resulting in the case not being ejected.
It’s billed as a promenade piece - does that present a particular challenge as a writer?
It wasn’t originally written to be a promenade piece, and actually I was borderline fucked off when I heard it was going to be staged as one. But now I love the promenade version of it. Basically, HighTide and the director had a vision for it and they’ve been proved right. The director, Michael Longhurst and I had to recalibrate the whole thing, including creating a location that frames the action of play.
The truth is this is a different sort of promenade to a Shunt or a Punchdrunk event because it’s not an abstracted narrative. In this show you follow the protagonist through one clear story, inhabiting different locations with him.
Amman appears to be an oasis of security in the Middle-East. Why do you think this is?
Unlike its neighbours, Jordan has few natural resources and survives primarily on tourism. So it prides itself on being safe – if it wasn’t it’d be screwed. They also have a stable, popular and benevolent monarchy who seem to have encouraged a more moderate country.
Many business leaders, religious leaders and politicians, Iraqi or otherwise, base themselves in Amman because of its proximity to Iraq, but also because of this perceived safety. I heard it a lot that in Amman there were people passing each other on the street who, back in Iraq, would be trying to kill each other.
Why do you think the Middle-East continues to be a relatively unpopular subject with dramatists and filmmakers?
I blame Dr Edward Said. His theory of Imperial Narrative has made it hard for all us pampered Western writers to project motives, noble or ignoble, onto characters from third world countries. I mean, as if the job isn’t hard enough already.
There’s one main character in Stovepipe from the Middle East, whom I feel confident in writing because I’ve met him. And the chap playing him is Iraqi and I wrote it for him to do, so I hope I don’t have too many accusations on that count.
Also, I expect there are a lot of scripts, for both mediums, about the Middle East which don’t get made. Certainly I was told by a couple of venerable new writing institutions that I shouldn’t have written about Iraq, presumably because it was in some way ‘done’. Although, of the plays that have ‘done’ it, most have been set in Britain and spent two hours confirming to their liberal audience why we shouldn’t have invaded. There are honourable exceptions - Simon Stephens’ Motortown was a very brave play to write and I think my favourite response to the war.
For more on Stovepipe and the HighTide festival, click here