Tuesday, April 03, 2007

REVIEW: Talking to Terrorist (Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin)

The big question that hangs over verbatim theatre – theatre in which the words spoken on stage were all first spoken by real people – is why work this way? What more is achieved when the words don't come from the playwright's memory and imagination, but instead from the lips of real historical and contemporary figures?

The question is posed in an acute form by Robin Soans' latest foray into verbatim theatre, a rapid fire exploration of terrorism and its effects on both perpetrators and victims, using a range of testimonies from everybody from a former African child soldier to Norman Tebbit.

Soans has woven the testimony into short, pointed scenes, which are here sharply delivered by an expert cast of storytellers, including Helen Norton (who does nice Mo) and Michael Grennell, who adroitly leaps from an ex-member of the Al Asqua Matyrs Brigade to a well-starched British colonel, and David Pearse, who provides a couple of nice turns, particularly as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

The problems here do not stem from the cast, Moggie Douglas' design or Bairbre Ni Chaoimh's direction, all of which skilfully mix panache and passion. Less sure-footed is Soans' play, in which the quest for truth seldom really moves beyond a liberal-ish received opinion.

The triumph of the best of verbatim theatre – let's say Richard Norton-Taylor's Scenes from the Saville Enquiry – is that it sifted and organised in dramatic form information that was originally (probably) intentionally dense and opaquely presented.

Because Talking to Terrorist assumes a more general job for itself, it is not nearly as powerful and corrosive a piece of work. Several of the people represented, for instance, are already media figures, which somewhat distorts matters.

And there is an argument, even, that to link violence is so many different global conflicts -- from Palestine, to Sierra Leone, Belfast to Uzbekistan -- is to foster a Bushist agenda, to see all conflicts, no matter how different their origins, as the actions of a homogenised enemy that must be annihilated.

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