Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: The Great Game, Tricycle Theatre

Review: The Great Game, Tricycle Theatre

Published in Time Out, 03.08.2010

When viewed in the present alone, current affairs seem murkiest. Offering a perspective on 150 years of Afghanistan’s history, ripe with cycles of conflict, The Great Game colours in the newsprint. Interspersed with verbatim testimonials, its 12 plays piece together a complex jigsaw.

It’s striking that, in spite of being individually written, the plays pick up repeated motifs. A country that seemed “a death-trap for foreign armies” in 1842 is finally described by Simon Stephens as “the new Northern Ireland.” Its history is born of geography: its location makes it a crucible for international violence, drawn out and made bloody by its terrain. Too vast and inhospitable, perhaps, for democracy and too easily ambushed by neighbours, tribal warlords or totalitarian regimes.

The new recruit for this second Tricycle run, replacing JT Rogers’s Blood and Gifts, is Lee Blessing’s Wood for the Fire. Blessing opts for much the same angle on the mid-80s: the irony behind America’s surreptitious arming of local warlords against the Soviet forces. The ISI and CIA chiefs haggle over weapons like Big Brother contestants chalking up a groceries list. America’s “dream situation,” hitting the Russians without risking its own men, will, of course, become its nightmare. It’s a neat fit: light but pinpoint.

Inevitably, some of the plays are more full-bodied than others. Most potent are Stephen Jeffreys’s haunting opener, Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad, in which four buglers await a long-dead army; Miniskirts of Kabul, David Greig’s empathetic portrait of incaracerated former President Najibullah; and The Lion of Kabul, Colin Teevan’s chilling portrait of Taliban executions. Taken together, however, they are richly textured and rewarding.

At its end, Stephens’s Canopy of Stars places us onstage. A sergeant on leave is confronted by his wife, desperate for him to come home. “You’re changing nothing,” she implores. Perhaps, but that’s no excuse for inaction.

Photograph: Jon Haynes

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