Sympathetic Stupid

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Stuff Happens @ Comedy Theatre

It's hard to do politics in art. This play's based around the events leading up to the Iraq war, starting from about the election of Dubya and finishing a little after the invasion. It's hard, but I think David Hare's taken the easy way out with the structure of the play. He's said elsewhere that it's not a 'live-action documentary', but unfortunately that was how I saw it.

For a start, all the characters are real people, which is easy for the playwright but hard for the actors. The performances in this show were mostly exceptional, especially Greg Stone's spot-on Bush. Yeah, he's an easy target, but he still had to nail it - the constant half-smile which says 'I'm sorta listening' was just right. Rhys Muldoon's Tony Blair was most disappointing for mine; it seemed he was trying to avoid doing a caricature and skewed too far the other way, completely avoiding the halting speech patterns Blair often exhibits.

Much of the speech is taken straight from the mouths of the participants, on the public record. The rest is 'behind-the-scenes' conversations in famous locations like the Oval Office and Camp David, or indeed 10 Downing St. This is where I start to take issue with the structure, as I think these necessarily fabricated conversations, which simply reinforce the stereotypes of their character, give too much scope for attacking the play. It's obvious from the start how these people will be portrayed (fuck, it's obvious when you buy the tickets) and they don't have a lot of depth beyond that. Naughty characters: Bush is dumb, Cheney and Rumsfeld pull the strings, Wolfowitz is egocentric and incompetent, Rice is a yes-woman. Nice characters: Powell is their conscience, Blair just wants to do the right thing, Blix is hard-working and conscientious. He could've written them in his sleep, and it's all preaching to the converted anyway.

There are things the play does well. Contradicting my earlier statements, I liked the portrayal of Blair as a guy who just wanted to help and was effectively railroaded by the US. And overall, we get the impression that the focus is just on getting the thing done, rather than asking whether or not the thing should be done. This is a useful insight. Hare's left-wing bias is obvious but he does give the hawks their best arguments in favour. It's staged and performed very well. And the closing monologue portraying an Iraqi exile is a good conclusion to a tough piece. But overall I felt the form gained nothing over a documentary which would allow the characters involved to dig their own graves. If it had to be a play, I'd rather some subtle yet strong political allegory.