If like me you find yourself questioning the evening news' slick presentation and wondering what is being kept from you then this eye-opening piece of verbatim theatre, What I Heard About Iraq, is just the ticket.
When it comes to the war in Iraq it seems that news values and government intervention have buried stories and withheld facts allowing spin to work like fabric softener. This gripping and very funny piece uses actual statements from soldiers, Iraqi civilians, George Bush, Tony Blair, the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld to get past the smokescreen, giving the play a voyeuristic quality.
Tales of high suicides within the army, the $368 billion cost of the war, and the true extent of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison all shock to the core and leave you feeling quite numb. This balanced account covers the story from many angles, including the death tolls from roadside bomb attacks.
Director Hannah Eidinow knows that movement is vital to keep the stories fresh and urgent so the actors rotate around the stage with each taking turn in the centre. The almost bare set is really a platform for the main messages. Short of offering a solution, Eliot Weinberger's original article, on which this is based, leaves the audience questioning everything they see and encouraging them to look behind the headlines.
The theatre on the night I attended was not packed. This is a shame as this production literally reignites the Iraq debate and you are invited to take part in a discussion following the performance.
Far from being dull and worthy this illuminating piece contains more anger and sadness than many dramatists can muster up in a three-hour play. All the performers project beautifully and perform with pace and pathos in abundance.
This painfully effective and stimulating piece is a must for anyone longing to hear home truths.
The Contact Theatre, Manchester.
- Glenn Meads