Thereís a female soldier based on Private Lynndie England, the suicidal weapons inspector Dr David Kelly and an Iraqi lady Nehrjas, one of the many victims of Saddamís reign of torture. These three characters are linked by the fact that they are all damaged from having seen so much brutality and Thompsonís script explores the divergent ways in which they respond to it.
First up is Jade Williams as a heavily pregnant trailer park girl from West Virginia turned soldier, awaiting trial for sexually tormenting Iraqi soldiers, claiming that she didnít made her victims do anything that she hadnít at some point done herself. This is a young woman given responsibility that she is far too immature and poorly educated to handle- she's more concerned about her image on the internet and place in popular culture than the consequences of her actions. Yet she isnít a complete monster as she has grown up in a culture of bullying and has never been taught any differently.
The case of Dr David Kelly, the weapons inspector who killed himself in 2003 over the British governmentís dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is a conspiracy theoristís dream. Robin Soans portrays Kelly as a devoted and caring husband and father destroyed by the murder of his closest friends in Baghdad. The audience is placed in the awkward position of being asked to witness his death, as his family would try to revive him- you feel as if you should step in, but this is theatre. And itís impossible to change what has already happened.
Thirdly, Imogen Smith delivers a highly dignified performance Nehrjas ('Daffodil' in Arabic), an elegant and well-educated widow in her fifties whose family was destroyed by Saddam Husseinís secret police when they refused to divulge information of her husbandís whereabouts. Her unflinching descriptions of the torture that she and her sons endured juxtaposed with the anecdotes about day-to-day life in Baghdad before Saddam took over are narrated without losing control. Itís even more chilling that way.
Judith Thompsonís exquisite writing has a very welcome lightness of touch amidst the horror. Her attention to the little quirks that make characters human rather than archetypes is a delight. The poetic touches in the language never feel forced or overdone, but rather reflect the charactersí fragile state of mind as they slip further and further ĎThrough the Looking Glassí (a recurring motif). Jessica Swaleís direction is impeccably simple, letting the words speak for themselves.
All three monologues could be presented as stand-alone pieces, but as a trio, combined with three outstandingly sensitive performances, they make a remarkably powerful tour de force. While it deserves a larger audience than can be accommodated in the Arcolaís smallest studio, the intimacy is yet another one of the productionís greatest assets. The pieces may be miniatures in length, but there is nothing small about them. I havenít seen anything quite so powerful this year.
- Julia Rank