Sunday, May 06, 2007


“People have said we have to confront a faceless enemy. But I say the enemy has got a face, the enemy has a name. He’s called Satan. He’s in Fallujah and we are going to destroy him”. (Scene from the play, Fallujah)

Fallujah is a play written by Jonathan Holmes and is based on personal testimonies of people who experienced the siege first hand.

The play isn’t like your conventional play. No seating in an audience and watching actors on a stage. The play is set in a disused brewery in Brick Lane, east London which includes installation art by Lucy and Jorge Orta. The first thing you see are these military shell suits with gas masks that give this dislocated, disjointed and eerie feeling as the lighting is very minimal. They act like ghosts.

I found it initially surreal as I felt like an awkward bystander watching these actors speak the lines of real people wandering from one piece of installation art to another that was also used as props. Other visual props were used such as video and the audience would watch interviews of actors speaking the lines of eyewitnesses. Because of this up-close-and-personal acting it gave the performances a powerful punch.

The war reporter character “Sasha” begins a soliloquy that is really a report she is giving to her cameraman. She tells us that the contractors who are killed by Iraqis (31st March 2004) were actually mercenaries working for Blackwater Security Consulting who earn top dollar for killing.

“So the residents of Fallujah are about to be ‘pacified’ because some of the resistance fighters there killed what were most likely mercenaries who regularly attack and detain residents of Fallujah”.
The cameraman finishes the scene with the line, “Great Sasha. Obviously we can’t use it”.

Scenes include strobe lighting accompanying intense gunfire. Three swaggering US “Grunts” weave in and out of the audience and make eye contact with you which really made me feel very uncomfortable as they are saying their lines like they expect you to react: “Marines don’t shoot rainbows out of our ass's. We fucking kill people.”

In an earlier scene an American sniper talks about Fallujah being a “snipers dream” and that your goal is to “completely demoralise the enemy”. Again, his lines are said in an official and business like tone only showing emotion when he speaks about his family.

The scenes with Condi Rice and military top brass (UK and USA) are played out on the balcony away from the audience while the other characters are played out on ground level with the audience. Condi and the top brass are as untouchable as gods.

The play is weaker where it puts out it’s own philosophy of war. It rather oddly does this by putting it’s view through the character of a sympathic senior British officer who has learnt that to win people over you need to earn their respect. This apparently is how the British army learnt to approach the nationalist people of the north of Ireland: Humm!!

Where the play really cuts deep though is in two speeches from Condi musing on the roles of values and religious faith in politics. These bring out the breathtaking hypocrisy of people like her and the Bliar. They have a greater weight of guilt than the “Grunts” or even of the cooperate apparatchiks; military and civil. The top politicians of the US and UK know exactly what they are doing and why.

They are prepared to destroy human life on a grand scale and pervert every civilised value for the furtherance of corporate barbarism.

Fallujah is now flattened by the use of heavy weapons: 70% has been bombed to the ground. The people of Fallujah now describe their town as a huge prison. Fallujah looked like any ordinary place before the siege and at the end of the play we see video footage showing a totally devastated and destroyed city.

The music (probably the initial reason I watched the play) was composed by Nitin Sawhney. The scene where the 3 US “Grunts” discuss killing people there is a version of the Star Spangled Banner being played on a sitar in the background. At the end there is a haunting and stark but beautiful version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah being sung.

The acting by Chipo Chung was outstanding and chameleon like. One minute she was playing Condi Rice and she got the mannerisms just right and next scene she was playing an ordinary Iraqi eyewitness and then a swaggering US “Grunt”.


AN said...

Sounds like a good play, I nearly watched that Channel 4 play on TV last night about Brit soldiers in Iraq, i tthink it was on More 4.

But in the end I watched a rerun of Hotel babylon. You can't be highbrow all the time!

Louisefeminista said...

"But in the end I watched a rerun of Hotel babylon. You can't be highbrow all the time!"

Ah, Hotel babylon. Watched it but it clashed with House on C5. Yes indeed, you cannot just live by highbrow telly all the time.... If that was the case I would have a very big problem...

Back to highbrow: I would recommend people see the play though I don't know if there will be a UK wide tour.