PALACE OF THE END
by Judith Thompson.
Arcola Theatre (Studio 2) 27 Arcola Street E8 2DJ To 20 November 2010.
Mon-Sat 8.15pm Mat 13, 20 Nov 3.30pm.
Runs: 1hr 35min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Carole Woddis 28 October 2010.
Personal aspects of War given sensitive, telling treatment.
The ghosts of the Iraqi War are alive and well in Canadian Judith Thompson’s subtle and rich Palace of the End. This triptych of monologues – winner of Amnesty’s 2009 International Freedom of Expression Award, seen at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and previously premiered at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – shows the consequences of Bush and Blair’s `shock and awe’ from three different angles with an even-handedness that does her credit.
Thompson doesn’t take sides, but there is an unmistakeable sympathy towards the Iraqi element. The third monologue focuses on an Iraqi wife and mother, forced to watch the torture and death of her son because the family are intellectuals. Her husband, a leader of the Iraq communist party – like many communist parties before them, progressives – is in hiding. Mother and young son are taken in for interrogation but refuse to talk.
Nehrjas al Saffarh’s’s horrific story is mitigated only slightly by the understated tone director Jessica Swale adopts for the production and the composure with which Imogen Smith tells it. The whole episode is a harrowing reminder of the brutality of Saddam’s regime but also, Thompson makes sure, of CIA collusion and support that put him there in the first place.
In contrast, the opening sequence in which a US soldier, based on Lynndie England, justifies her humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, gives us an equally chilling portrait of a young woman already desensitised by small-town American upbringing.
Not much morality going on there, though she declares herself a Christian and a patriot. Patriotism, Thompson suggests, is a terrifying weapon in the wrong hands and itself devastatingly open to abuse.
In between, we have the British twist, Dr David Kelly, on his possible `suicide’ and reasons for it, as pastoral and delicate as it is critical of the political expediency that forced his hand. “They would have hounded me forever”, he argues, settling himself under the tree.
Robin Soans, typically, imbues Kelly with layers of hidden life until the climactic moment on hearing of the murder of a beloved Iraqi friend and family by American forces; “I want to tell the TRUTH”.
Soldier: Jade Williams.
Dr David Kelly: Robin Soans.
Nehrjas: Imogen Smith.
Director: Jessica Swale.
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Sound: Paul Bull.
Dialect coach: Jan Haydn-Rowles.
Assistant director: Chloe Stephens.
The London premiere of Palace of the End is presented by Red Handed Theatre Company, of which Jessica Swale is artistic director, and Out of Joint.
The enterprise was also funded by a fund-raising evening of monologues, written by Robin Soans, presented at Amnesty and supported by Celia Imrie, Harriet Walter, Tim McInnerny, Miranda Raison, Paula Wilcox, Elliot Cowan, Richard E Grant, Harry Hadden-Paton, Ella Smith, Camilla Seale and Robin Soans.