For many months now years, perhaps, how time flies the stage has become something of a Trojan horse. Classic plays, for good and for bad, are being misappropriated having their focus redirected, sometimes away from the very specific issues about which they were composed, and all in the name of contemporisation.
La Scala’s recent interpretation of Candide had Voltaire’s kings wearing Bush and Blair masks, and amateur productions of Chicago are being plotted, right this moment, with orange overalls, black hoods and electric probes. That’s why Baghdad Wedding at the Soho Theatre a new play about Iraq, written by an exilic Iraqi is so important, so vital. What new insights has it got to offer?
This is the story of Salim doctor, writer, literati and Marwan, his college housemate and our principle narrator. The play begins on the morning of Salim’s wedding, an occasion ruptured by an American military attack. The survivors mourn the dead Salim included and make plans for the future; unaware that Salim is alive somewhere in the contested desert.
Baghdad Wedding seeks to explain war and conquest in terms of human nature. There is a clear Oedipal theme going on, and all the phallic imagery you could ever hope for. It seems a little half-hearted though a little superficial but perhaps this makes sense in the wider context, where true depth was never intended.
Politically, this is a one-issue study; anyone expecting a rigorous ethical argument will be disappointed. But this is not to the plays detriment. After all, half the Amazon rainforest has already gone into writing about Iraq, and Baghdad Wedding‘s irreverence is topical and self-referential.
We are presented with a cumbersome wall of stereotypes. There are kidnappings and insurgency; indiscriminate missile attacks, torture and autonomic American soldiers: Abdulrazzak’s Iraq is a simulacrum, a spectacle. His representations ostensibly buzzwords and soundbytes which prevent thinking foreground the limitations of media reporting.
Salim’s greatest critic, Yasser, puts it memorably: we are here living it. They are there watching it. You can’t get more separated than that. Baudrillard would have liked it.
Baghdad Wedding is well realised. The pacing is just right and Goldman should be commended for using every inch of space available. Kagan’s lighting design usually something of an artless art opens up the stage and in doing so facilitates this latter success. There could have been greater economy in the dialogue a scene or two seem utterly superfluous but the play is a comfortable length and retains its comic fluidity throughout. Matt Rawie’s Salim stands out from an otherwise strong cast.
To answer the question, however, there isn’t really anything new on offer here. This is the war we see in our papers and on the news it is built of the very same stuff. Self-reference is all too often written-in as a disclaimer, a dramatic get-out clause. But what Baghdad Wedding does achieve, it does with flair.