Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Palace of the End
Theatre Exchange, Manchester
Venue: Traverse, Varying times til end of the month
This compelling trio of monologues written by Judith Thompson are delivered from the hearts of three very different people who were directly involved in the Iraq War. Each one is around thirty-five minutes long, and the actors keep us gripped with their personal stories and justifications for where they find themselves.
The large space at the Traverse is used sparingly. Each monologue, or indeed, confession, is accompanied by just a small set area to denote character and place, and a large glowing square at the back in the centre which changes colour with each monologue to symbolise the character of the piece. The first person is a female soldier from West Virginia, based on the infamous soldier who was shown to have abused Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. The second is David Kelly, confessing all as he lies in the wood near his home waiting to commit suicide; and the third is an Iraqi woman as she recounts the horrific and heartbreaking experiences her and her family went through during Saddam’s rein.
Each speech is written as a journey through the persons conscience. The first symbolises the arrogance and stupidity of the US and Allies through this particular soldier; uneducated, damaged, abused, she acted in the name of the flag and is now a scapegoat who is all alone with her enormous burden. As an audience we can empathize with her up to a point, but in the end only really pity her, and it is hard to see any justification for her twisted actions. She confesses all, about the human pyramids, the sexual and bestial humiliation; and goes even further in anger and despair, covering for the emotional torture she feels at what she has done, and haunted by the words of one Iraqi man: ‘This I will not do for your entertainment’.
David Kelly’s speech is the most interesting and most painful to watch. He predicts what will be said in the media after he is dead and asks: ‘Is it too much to ask to watch me die.’ He is a man with a noose around his neck, recounting why he had to do what he did: Because, unlike so many others, he is brave enough to give up his job, his family, his life, for what he believes is right. He ends with ‘Thank you for witnessing, I will always be here, I can see the whole world from here’ We feel tremendously sorry for the man and it only reinforces our disgust at Tony Blair and everyone involved in the deception.
The Iraqi woman Nehrjas’s speech delves viscerally into the dark deeds of Sadam’s secret police. She makes some serious points about the elation she felt when the Americans came, yet ultimately: ‘Those who say they have come to save us, have come to destroy us.’ She is proud of her culture and of the strength of her family under horrific torture; and yet despite her experiences, she is strong, and having started with she also finishes by talking about dates, the national fruit, and this becomes a symbol that binds the nation together.
All three monologues are perfectly structured and are arresting pieces of writing; all performed with heart and depth by Kellie Bright, Robert Demeger and Eve Polycarpou. At the end they all stand together, but they are still very separate and alone. With such a large stage I felt it could have been brought in somehow by use of set. The intimacy of the speeches calls for a more intimate space as they looked very isolated down there. Also perhaps, a thread between the speeches, that depending on which one, accredits or forgives the other’s actions, binding the three with more hope and common humanity.