Palace of the End, named for Saddam Hussein's torture chamber-filled palace, brings together three
unrelated individuals touched by the war in Iraq. We meet the US soldier who
gained worldwide infamy after she was photographed smiling and giving the
thumbs-up next to a naked Iraqi detainee at Abu Ghraib prison (Jade
Williams); Dr David Kelly, the British scientist who killed himself following
leaking the truth about the threat of Iraq’s WMD capabilities (Robin Soans);
and the widow of the head of the Iraqi communist party (Imogen Smith) who
underwent torture under Saddam Hussein’s rule.
Aside from a distractingly strange West Virginia accent from
Williams, the cast do a fine job with a script that is too reliant on facts to
ever be truly dramatic. Palace of the End may have won the
Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe 2009
for its engaging human rights message, but playwright Judith Thompson’s
characters, David Kelly most grievously, are all too frequently two-dimensional
amalgamations of news stories rather than fully developed dramatic characters.
Thompson touches upon a number of major ethical and
political issues in this play, about responsibility, truth, storytelling,
torture and gender politics, but stops short of a proper discussion of any of
them. Some of the play’s strongest moments are those that address patriarchy
and women’s agency within the power structures that limit them; it is in
presenting the imagined thoughts and feelings of the women whose stories she
tells (rather than the verbatim-lite style that otherwise prevails) that
Thompson lands her punches.