Fallujah, a play about the American siege and assault of the Iraqi city in 2004, is currently running at the Old Truman Brewery, on Brick Lane, London. Fallujah represents an unforgettable part of Blair’s legacy, an action in which British forces played a key role. According to the producers:
“The siege of Fallujah constitutes one of the most extensive human rights violations of recent times. Breaching over 70 articles of the Geneva conventions, US forces bombed schools and hospitals, sniped at civilians (including children) holding white flags, cut off water and medical supplies, and instigated a chemical weapons assault, deploying napalm and white phosphorus, both of which are banned by the UN.”
“This play presents testimony from those at the heart of the siege: Iraqi civilians, clerics, US military and politicians, journalists, medics, aid workers, and the British Army. None of this testimony has been heard before. Every word of this play is verbatim.”
Reviewed by Philip Fisher in The British Theatre Guide
For those that were lucky enough to see it, Fallujah will almost inevitably bring to mind the sensation of last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Gregory Burke’s Black Watch.
To varying degrees, the style, subject matter and sentiments are similar but this play is a Verbatim drama, entirely created from the words of those at the sharp end of the conflict that still rages in Iraq, three years on from the start of these proceedings.
Academic and theatre practitioner Dr Jonathan Holmes has got together a team of influential friends to put on this indictment of the American conduct in that benighted country.
The ICA have become involved in a project that takes place in a large, decommissioned brewery in Brick Lane, now almost like a Bangladeshi enclave in the City of London, just around the corner from Petticoat Lane Market.
There, designers Lucy and Jorge Orta have created an installation that fills the large space and eerily features empty anti-gas suits, old shoes and boots, as well as screens large and small on which much of the drama is presented or repeated. This is as well, since if there is ever a capacity audience of around 650, few will see the actors in the flesh for any great length of time. Even a promenading crowd of 100 or so only got good views for perhaps half of the time.
However, the text – and the testimony that it provides – is almost all on this occasion. That is not to detract from some great acting and real fireworks as the creative team attempts to recreate the experience of being in the midst of a war zone. These explosive scenes run to a rhythmic beat that might seem distasteful in a depiction of what some might call genocide.
The 90 minute play has been set to music by Nitin Sawnhey. This can sometimes add depth to the drama but at other times seems gratuitous when the subject of the evening is mass slaughter.
The dramatis personae represent a wide cross-section of those involved, led by Chipo Chung’s vacuous Condoleezza Rice, a woman who has made an art form out of saying nothing, at length. She sets the scene, without irony, by saying that “The President of the United States understands Islam to be a faith of peace, a faith that protects innocents, and the policy of the United States is to do the same”.
The play then becomes a collage of interviews and re-enactments that builds a picture of life (and death) in a city the size of Edinburgh, around 500,000 inhabitants, that was practically razed to the ground, judging by the filmed sequences shown at the end of the performance.
The characters come from all areas of the conflict, with a couple of useful peripheral insertions to offer perspective. There are soldiers of all colours and priests, journalists and ordinary citizens. They come from many nations, America, Britain and Iraq to the fore.
The lynchpins are two White women portrayed by major names, who are obviously committed to this anti-war cause.
Harriet Walter plays Sasha, an American investigative journalist (actually a combination of several interviewees) who has a knack of embarrassing those whom she interviews. This results from a combination of bravery, determination and the knack of asking the right question.
Even braver is Jo (Wilding), a clown at home in the UK, but risking her life to act as an auxiliary nurse on the front line. The scene in which she and a local woman are picked up by militia men and seem destined to die, shows actress Imogen Stubbs at her very best, as fear literally makes her shake.
There is also a Frenchwoman, played by movie star Irene Jacob, seen on film telling the story of her kidnap and eventual release after a terrifying time in captivity.
The remainder of the ensemble are almost equally good, playing numerous parts with unquestioning commitment.
It could be argued that this story of the destruction of a city is partial with a bias against the United States. Whether that is so or not, the slaughter of innocents must always be regarded as a crime against humanity and it is to be hoped that Jonathan Holmes’ play, that is also available in book form with texts of interviews, might just accelerate the end of a not-war that continues to claim lives on a daily basis.