What I Heard About Iraq

Adapted by Simon Levy from Eliot Weinberger's article
Directed by Hannah Eidinow
Unity Theatre (27th-28th April 2007)

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Well...Iraq...what can you say? Probably nothing that hasn't been said by a million people around the world. And yet it goes on unrelentingly. The news we hear seems worse by the day, and it's becoming ever clearer that the US-led invasion of that country has been disastrous for almost everyone involved. Unless you own oil or aerospace (weapons of mass destruction) shares, it's a horror beyond your wildest nightmares.

Perhaps then this piece of verbatim theatre is the only way the war could be brought to the stage without seeming phoney and manipulative. Although, come to think of it, those are two of the kinder adjectives which could be applied to 'our' political leaders.

What I Heard About Iraq started off as an article by American writer Eliot Weinberger, which was published in the London Review Of Books. From there it took on a life of its own, and was quickly given theatre space in the United States, where it provoked fights amongst audience members. Last year it won a major prize at the Edinburgh festival, and the production is now on a six week tour of smallish UK venues, and being constantly updated to incorporate the latest grim and grisly stories.

The central idea couldn't be any simpler. As dates are flashed up on the screen, three men and two women tell us what they heard about Iraq. The quotes and stats are presented in chronological order, starting with current US Vice President Dick Cheney's 1992 claim that the Bush Senior had been wise not to get ‘bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq’. We were then brought bang up to date with the latest military deaths, including one young man from Liverpool.

In the words of Donald Rumsfeld, the 'Defense' Secretary who was one of the invasion's main architects, "Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war". So it's just as well that at about an hour long, the performance is just enough to give a flavour of the hell-on-earth that is Iraq, without completely overwhelming theatregoers. And there is the odd moment of absurdly bleak humour, especially when we hear one of the murderous gangsters known as 'politicians' get tangled up in their own web of deceit.

And that was the genius of Weinberger's article. In this age of instant global communication (and especially Google), all the lies are there for all to see. All it takes is for someone to join the dots and reveal the subversive truth. There swing Bush, Rice, Blair and all the other war criminals, hanging on a rope of their own making.

After the applause had faded, one of the performers announced there would be a question and answer session a few minutes later. The packed auditorium only lost about ten bodies, as many people wanted to share their feelings about the war, the media, and the political system in general.

Of course, no play is going to stop this madness. But I left the theatre confident that the general public is learning to see through the lies, half-truths and misinformation that the rich and powerful attack us with every single day.

Click here to read Eliot Weinberger's 2005 article: www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n03/wein01_.html

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