Theatre Review – Guantanamo


New Ambassadors Theatre, London

Political Theatre has the ability to transform crises into drama with impressive speed. Already the so-called War on Terror has become a hot topic in the chilly West End theatres of London. This year has seen at least four productions concerning aspects of the post 9/11 conflicts: David Hare’s Stuff Happens, Alastair Beaton’s Follow My Leader, and Embedded by Tim Robbins. One of the latest is Guantanamo – Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, which explores the detention of over 650 internees at the Cuban base by the US. Picked up in the preliminary stages of the conflict, the internees are unprotected by the Geneva Convention or US justice and are seen as neither criminal suspects nor prisoners of war – simply ‘detainees’.
Described as a “shocking and often deeply moving production” by the Daily Telegraph, Guantanamo is written by Gillian Slovo – daughter of Joe – and Victoria Brittain, ex-Associate Foreign Editor of the Guardian. Written is perhaps the wrong word, for the story, such as it is, is a compilation of extracts from statements and interviews with the Camps Delta and X Ray detainees, their families, and friends of those killed in the 9/11 attacks. We also have relevant politicians from the ‘alliance’ putting their oars in, generally to the delight of the audience.
Interestingly, the play has no clearly defined beginning or end. As the audience enters the theatre the actors playing the detainees are already on stage, pacing the boards as if wishing the audience to hurry up and sit down so they can get on with it, and remain on stage when the play has apparently ended, presumably to draw attention to the audience’s freedom and the detainees’ lack of it.
Lack is something we are confronted with throughout the play, particularly of dramatic intensity. This is highlighted when the orange boiler suits part for the entrances of Jack Straw and Donald Rumsfeld. Passably impersonated, it is as if Rory Bremner has put in a guest appearance to brighten a worthy but rather sunless production. The cast do well with their material but seem constrained by the form of the play. Sitting, lying, standing but rarely moving, their general immobility seems emblematic of the static nature of the play, and the effervescence of dialogue is flattened by the need for single long speeches.
In the end there were no performances as such to enjoy, only the words of the inmates. Though their stories may have been moving, they alone were not enough to transpose this hot topic into even lukewarm theatre.


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