Palace of the End ****

Palace of the End is a harrowing collection of three monologues.  Written by Judith Thompson, the play looks at the war in Iraq from three different perspectives: an American soldier, a British scientist and an Iraqi civilian.  That the first two characters are artistic interpretations of two well-known people only adds to the intrigue the production creates.

It’s easy to see this as an anti-war play as the situation in Iraq is never painted favourably.  Indeed, many of the stories that we hear fill the audience with disgust and may in fact enrage.  But the play does more than that.  Instead, it puts a human face on the events, making people who have first-hand experience of the atrocities into living humans rather than stereotypes or mere fodder for the press.

Thompson’s script is elegantly written.  She never shies away from harsh story elements and yet manages to give each character an understandable point of view.  We may disagree with someone, but we at least understand where they come from.  It is a brave piece of writing that takes many leaps and is paid back with high emotional dividends.

First up is Lynndie England, the soldier heavily involved with the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.  Played by Kellie Bright, England comes across as a dumb redneck who believes she was working for God and country.  The majority of her performance is peppered with laughs, mostly at her expense.

Following her is Robert Demeger’s interpretation of David Kelly.  Kelly comes across as a doomed voice of reason, a man who lied because he gave his word to secrecy but blows the whistle when a dear friend becomes a casualty of war.  Kelly was certainly demonised at the time of his actions, but here he appears methodical, sympathetic and on the side of the angels.

The play ends with Nehrjas.  From her, we get a full uncensored account of life under Saddam Hussein.  Played by Eve Polycarpou, Nehrjas is a woman fated to misery, condemned because for her liberal ideas and loyalty to family and friends.

If I have one complaint, it would be this: it feels as if this production is in the wrong theatre space.  All three monologues are played as testimonials; personal expressions that are meant to feel intimate.  By being staged in Traverse 1, the actors are too far away from many audience members, and it feels at times like three lectures.  Had it been in Traverse 2, it would have been much more personal, and all the more powerful for it.

Be that as it may, Palace of the End is still excellent theatre.  It has a beautifully written script, three phenomenal performances and direction that makes everything smooth and involving.  It is a bit difficult to listen to at times, but it is a performance that should certainly be watched.

Playing at Traverse 1 until August 30.  Check for times as they vary.

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