“Urgent and compelling”, “partisan” and “dull” – the critics’ verdict is far from unanimous when it comes to Tricycle’s verbatim tribunal drama {Called to Account::L01664797221}, which opened last night (23 April 2007, previews from 19 April) at the north London theatre (See Today's {1st Night Photos}).

Subtitled “The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq”, {Called to Account::L01664797221} is directed by Nicolas Kent and sees prosecution and defense lawyers interrogate 11 key political figures, including MPs, diplomats, international lawyers, UN officials, intelligence experts and journalists, in a bid to indict Prime Minister Tony Blair for his involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

The play, which features a script edited by Guardian security affairs editor Richard Norton-Taylor, plays until 19 May at the Tricycle Theatre and follows earlier 'war on terror' investigations Guantanomo – Honor Bound to Defend Freedom and Justifying War, a dramatisation of the Hutton Inquiry into the death of government arms advisor Dr David Kelly.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) – This show “is about as exciting as watching paint dry and far less enthralling … The word 'indictment' sounds rather silly, as the proceedings subside merely into a hearing and an airing of views and statistics most of us have heard time and time again … The structure of the piece is dull, with 11 witnesses examined and cross-examined one after the other. The only surprise to me was the draining of liberal-minded malevolence towards the Prime Minister as the show at least has the honesty to suggest that the case against him wouldn’t stand up in court. It certainly doesn’t in the theatre.”

  • Benedict Nightingale at The Times (three stars) – “The Trike Tribunal throws up plenty of fascinating material, and in its dogged, sober way is gripping enough … As always at the Trike, the acting is so authentic you really feel you’re hearing Michael Mates, MP, say that there was more cockup than conspiracy, or the UN’s Edward Mortimer claim that if there was to be a war Blair 'wanted Britain to be in it', or the neocon Perle that intelligence which justified the war 'was wrong but adequate'.”

  • Michael Billington at the Guardian (four stars) – “Although the theatre has created its own judicial hearing, Richard Norton-Taylor's edited version of it is as urgent and compelling as all his previous pieces of verbatim theatre. What is impressive is the way the gravest of issues is handled with such forensic sobriety. No voices are raised. No one shouts 'war criminal'. We see a patient, detailed search for truth … Even if you conclude there is insufficient 'hard evidence' to justify Blair's indictment, there is no doubt about the evening's importance … It is a forensic examination of the evidence that confirms Clare Short's observation that 'people in Britain have lost their faith in political institutions partly because of all this'.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh at the Evening Standard (four stars) – “The legal tone is neither one-sided nor shrill, but always cool, clear and shocking in Kent's restrained production … For all its clarity, {Called to Account::L01664797221} could sometimes do with infusions of that absent theatrical commodity - passionate emotion … What emerges, shockingly, is a sense of a messianic Blair riding in easy triumph over sheep- and Ostrich-like Cabinet ministers, towards a war that may make us a terrorist target for decades.”

  • Charles Spencer at the Daily Telegraph – “There is a literal sense of the theatre taking the law into its own hands … the Trike seems to be saying, since the Hutton and Butler inquiries failed to nail the PM we’ll do the job ourselves. As a result the piece seems worryingly partisan … The really brave and genuinely dramatic thing to do now would be to stage a play in favour of the war against Iraq … there is something wearisome about a play that merely seems to confirm its audience’s prejudices … Although I think many of us were gulled about the need for war, even this biased piece failed to convince me Blair deserves to go down for war crimes.”

    - by Malcolm Rock