Friday, 7 June 2013

Palace of the End, June 6, 2013 ****

Three monologues:My Pyramids; Harrowdown Hill; Instruments of Yearning
By Judith Thompson
Production by Daniel Clarke in association with Theatre Works 
Theatre Works, June 6 to 16, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on June 6
Stars: ****
This review is published in Herald Sun on line on Fri June 7.

Judith Thompson’s play, Palace of the End, is emotionally confronting and, in the claustrophobic, dimly lit space, surrounded by gossamer thin, black drapes, we experience a hint of the entrapment of torture victims and witness the tragic impact of the inhumanity of war and its moral ambiguities.

Three powerful and convincing monologues present three diverse experiences and views of the various conflicts visited upon the Iraqi people, and the abuses and devastation caused by both Saddam’s regime and the US and UK forces.

The actors address the audience directly and Daniel Clarke’s production does not embellish the monologues, but allows Thompson’s vivid language, sometimes brutal imagery and grim stories – each with fleeting glimpses of humour – to speak for themselves.

The first monologue, My Pyramids, delivered by a genuinely dislikeable character known only as A Soldier (Hannah Norris), depicts Lynndie England, the US soldier convicted of the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, justifying her reprehensible actions.

Norris, portraying a frenetic, dim-witted, redneck ranting about her mistreatment by media and a battery of online hate messages, shows her to be deluded (she compares herself to Joan of Arc), conceited and cruel, with a frightening moral certainty based on twisted patriotism.

A more sympathetic character is David Kelly (Robert Meldrum), the British weapons expert who died after he was exposed as the unnamed source of a journalist’s revelation that dossiers on the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction were fabricated to justify the Iraq invasion.  

In this monologue called Harrowdown Hill, Meldrum’s performance is measured, restrained and intimate, evolving from reportage into emotional declarations as Kelly reveals his guilt, self-loathing and rage at the horrors and injustices visited upon his friends in Baghdad.

Instruments of Yearning, the final piece, is a compelling depiction, by Eugenia Fragos, of Nehrjas Al Saffarh, an Iraqi dissident who survived torture by Saddam’s B’athists in the Palace of the End four decades ago, but died in a US bombing raid in 1991.

Fragos is impassioned and dignified as Al Saffarh, peeling back layers of horror as she tells her tale of torture, loss and defiance.

Palace of the End will challenge you with its poignant, horrific or visceral details of abusers and abused in wartime, leaving you feeling both provoked and moved by its characters and themes.

By Kate Herbert

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