BLOOD AND GIFTS
by J T Rogers.
Lyttelton Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 2 November 2010.
7.30pm 16, 23-25, 27-28 Sept, 69, 11, 29, 30 Oct, 1, 2 Nov.
2.15pm 16, 25, 28 Sept, 7, 9, 30 Oct, 2 Nov.
2.30pm 26 Sept, 10, 31 Oct.
Audio-described 30 Oct 2.15pm, 1 Nov.
Captioned 7 Oct 7.30pm.
Runs: 2hrs 45 mins with interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 14 September.
`First we will cleanse our country. Then we will cross oceans,’ are the final lines of J T Rogers’ Blood and Gifts
The lines, spoken ostensibly in 1991, at the end of the American `victory’ in pushing Soviet influence out of Afghanistan, gain an eerie prescience in the light of what was to follow. But that is Rogers looking back.
Nonetheless they send a chill down the spine that fails to resonate through the rest of the play. First seen in a shortened 20 minute version as part of Nick Kent’s amazing 2009 Afghanistan event, The Great Game, Rogers’ play struck me then as a telling account of the gross miscalculation made by the US in supporting Afghan Mujahideen in the Cold War battle against the Soviet Union. Memories can be short and Blood and Gifts seemed a really fine attempt to remind us of the West’s responsibility in what ensued thereafter.
Transferred and expanded, Howard Davies’ production for once miscalculates the tone, creating overblown bombast to what was once small and secretive. The play seems now only peripherally – though beautifully cast – about Afghanistan.
True, Rogers maps out the bedevilling, switchback loyalties between Afghan warlords and the various regional power brokers – Pakistani/US/Russian/British – with clarity, and often grim humour. Nowhere more so than in his portrayal of Dmitri Gromo, the wily KGB agent (the wonderful Matthew Marsh) and his British counterpart, the whirling, whisky drinking loose canon, Simon Craig. Gerald Kyd’s Pakistani ISI intelligence Colonel also tells us much about Pakistan’s own realpolitik.
But it is Lloyd Owen’s CIA operative, James Warnock, who bestrides the stage throughout and who commands attention. This is the American perspective, God-driven, Cold War obsessed, sometimes critical, iconic, and, sadly, clichéd.
As a man who knows he carries the full weight of the most powerful nation at his back but also suffers the odd twinge of guilty conscience, Owen cuts a coolly threatening figure. I, though, found it hard though to take his character seriously. When it comes to conscience crunchers, Graham Greene and John Le Carré do it better.
Dmitri Gromov: Matthew Marsh.
James Warnock: Lloyd Owen.
Colonel Afridi: Gerald Kyd.
Military Clerk: Danny Ashok.
Simon Craig: Adam James.
Abdullah Khan: Demosthenes Chrysan.
Saeed: Philip Arditti.
Soldier: Craige Els.
Mujahideen: Kammy Darweish, Robert Gilbert, Nabil Stuart.
Political Speechwriter: Mark Healy.
Administrative Aide: Ian Drysdale.
Staffer: Jessica Regan.
Walter Barnes: Simon Kunz.
CIA Analyst: Nick Barber.
Senator Jefferson Birch: Duncan Bell.
Ensemble: Katie Lightfoot.
Supernumeraries: Farhan Baqi, Madeleine Brolly, Trudy Elizabeth Hodgson, Christina Gallon, Rahul Kohli, Louisa Marie Norman.
Director: Howard Davies.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Music: Marc Teitler.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey, Jeannette Nelson.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
The original short version of Blood and Gifts was originally commissioned by the Tricycle Theatre, London and presented in 2009 as part of The Great Game: Afghanistan. The full length version was commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater, New York. It was further developed at PlayPenn in Philadelphia and New Dramatists in New York.