Wars are all about a winning idea, or so preaches one of writer/director Jonathan Holmes’ front-line interviewees brought to the stage before a crowd of London’s most concerned theatre-lovers in trendy Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery. Welcome to Fallujah, the next chapter in theatre’s ongoing verbatim campaign against America’s Iraq policy-makers with video game lighting and sound effects.
Composer Nitin Sawhney, sound designer David McEwan, and installation artists Lucy Orta and Jorge Orta have helped bring Holmes’ vision of Fallujah – a city in Iraq devastated by American forces and hired mercenaries – to his audience in the form of a promenade performance, bombarding them with blinking lights, piercing explosions and a warehouse stocked full of anti-contamination suits.
US generals and politicians (including Chipo Chung’s ominous Condeleeza Rice) are raised above the action on podium stages and mezzanine floors as journalists and besieged civilians scurry about ground level weaving between onlookers, flickering LCD monitors and stacks of designer body bags. Much of the spectacle, however, is superfluous and at times distancing when you find your view impeded by a column or shifting throng of spectators. Rather it is through admirably committed performances from Harriet Walter, Imogen Stubbs and Irene Jacob that this productions truly excels.
Stubbs’ accounts of American militia opening fire on fellow aid-workers in an ill-fated ambulance and her futile guilt following failed attempts to assist wounded civilians are vividly sincere. Walter, as passionate Canadian journalist Sasha, carries the narrative brunt with just the right amount of authority and sentiment.
Jacob (who only appears in pre-recorded video footage) plays a French journalist kidnapped and released by Iraqi insurgents, recalling the ordeal so authentically it is difficult to believe she did not experience the event first-hand.
This production goes some way toward communicating the horror of the 1994 event, which violated some 70 articles of the Geneva Convention, but in attempting to take verbatim drama out of the realm of dry reportage it upstages worthy performances.
With some refinement - and perhaps a reduced nightly audience admittance – could Fallujah become the winning idea in theatre’s war on phlegmatism?