A “stovepipe” is a firearms malfunction, and this promenade performance of Adam Brace’s new play – presented by the High Tide Festival in Suffolk in collaboration with the Bush and the National – does go off at half-cock. But it also contains some fine writing in a “site-sympathetic” setting.
Brace, a playwriting post-graduate from Goldsmiths, spent time in Jordan researching private military companies, and invents a scenario in and around Amman during the sixth annual Rebuild Iraq Conference. His lead character Alan (Shaun Dooley), serving with the Parachute Regiment, sees a colleague burned alive in an armoured vehicle.
Then, having signed up as a private security agent, he finds another friend Eddy (Niall MacGregor) goes missing, and embarks on a hunt across the Middle East, mixing with dodgy entrepreneurs, Russian prostitutes, spies and an office wallah who reveals that local appreciation of the English character is driven by appreciation (not) of the Mr Bean films.
It’s all a bit of a giddy goose chase and we start in an unoccupied unit of the shopping centre (not the new Westfield) housing the Vue cinema at Shepherd’s Bush and descending, round the corner, to what feels like a large underground car park cleverly arranged by designer takis into a series of interconnecting locations: conference centre with screens and posters, a hotel bedroom, dowdy bar area and breakfast room, office interiors, dangerous streets, a training centre and a parish church in Carmathen.
Michael Longhurst’s 100-minute production is fun to follow but also hard to comprehend, despite the unrelenting resourcefulness of his five-strong cast, which includes Eleanor Matsuura as various tough cookies, notably the English wife of the South African security recruitment chief, Christian Bradley as the chief, and Sargon Yelda as several sly and critical locals.
I’m increasingly immune to plays with loud sirens and unexpected gunfire, but I salute the authenticity of Brace’s playwriting and this lively illumination of another murky corner in the Iraq campaign following the wild success of Black Watch and the recent low down on propaganda broadcasting, Isfahan Calling, at the Old Red Lion.
– Michael Coveney