But there is a hypnotic, elliptical quality to Mike Bradwell’s outstanding Upstairs production which dumps us inside an abandoned compound – designer Bob Bailey’s walls are blasted with holes, the ceiling open to the sky, the floor caked in rubble – and leaves us to sweat it out with the soldiers.
So intense is the heat, so powerful the sense of being part of a dangerous lull in the action in this part of the Helmand Province, that the audience sustained a casualty at the performance I attended, a middle-aged lady staggering to the end of a row and out to the stairs for revivifying treatment.
After a skirmish which has left one British soldier with his face blown off outside, lance corporal Gary (Joe Armstrong, uncannily resembling a taller version of his own father, the great Alun) and his taciturn Afghan sidekick, Hafizullah (Josef Altin), also known as “Paddy,” drag in a body bag with a Taliban prisoner Zia (Nav Sidhu).
Another Afghan soldier (Imran Khan) calls by unhelpfully to urinate on the captive, who has come round and claimed to be a Brit himself from Newham who was kidnapped by the Taliban on a business expedition with his uncle from Lahore in Pakistan. The commanding officer Simon (Rufus Wright, a dead ringer for Prince William) is awaiting the arrival of a Chinook to clear the area.
Our so-called war on terror is turned inside out as a reversible cloak disguising a can of class and racist worms that have wriggled away for generations. Gary jumps sadistically on Zia’s leg. Simon confirms his “posh” status. Zia spills a torrent of abuse in all directions: how could he not be angry living with you people? What is so great about imposing our version of law and order when democracy sets such a bad example?
Piggy-in-the-middle Hafizullah keeps mum. This slice of life realism ends up leaving some awkward questions unanswered and, with a down-beat non-flourish, the action expires in a cloud of dust and helicopter noise.