Bad memories, bad choices

16Jan09

To the Old Vic earlier this week, to see the world premiere of Complicit, Joe Sutton’s play about the aftermath of a large-scale terrorist attack on US soil. Richard Dreyfuss plays Benjamin Kritzer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is facing a grand jury because of a story he wrote that implicates the current Administration (Bush isn’t named, could be any Administration, doesn’t matter) in extraordinary rendition, torture and all manner of human-rights abuses and flouting of international law.

Trouble is, straight after the attack, Kritzer wrote a high-profile column (‘I was so frightened’) endorsing the use of torture. When it comes to protecting ourselves, he argued, and in such unusual circumstances, we shouldn’t be so ‘squeamish’. By writing that, as a liberal journalist, did he open the door for the government to approve any means necessary? Is he, in short, complicit in the very things he later comes to condemn?

So there he is, in a courthouse antechamber with his lawyer (silky David Suchet) wondering what to admit and what to hide. He faces prison (a sentence of 20 years is possible, his lawyer assures him) if he doesn’t name his source. Don’t be a hero, says his wife, you’ve done enough. Don’t be an idiot, says his lawyer, you can only fight if you’re on the outside.

It’s an interesting, horrifying problem, and it brought back some awful memories. Do you remember the panic? The either-with-us-or-a-terrorist vileness spewed across the media? Suddenly any criticism of authority was handing victory to the terrorists. Fuelling radicalisation (oh yeah, it’s OUR fault, all the ones who marched and told our governments that we HATED what they were doing). An enemy of the state. Threatened. Accused. Silenced. Remember how bewildering it all was? Things seemed to move so fast, without any proper checks in place, but no way of stopping it. Dossier. Kelly. WMD. The only bright light that I can recall was Robin Cook’s speech of resignation – a glorious declaration of intellectual independence, of faith in justice and humanity, and a shaming mirror held up to the government.

The Old Vic production was a slight disappointment but had some lovely touches. Video screens of Andrew Marr interviewing Kritzer about his story, for example. Dreyfuss, was crumpled and scared but still sporadically burning with right and wrong. Suchet, morally bankrupt, pragmatic, hopelessly compromised. And then Elizabeth McGovern as Kritzer’s wife. Bless her, just not up to the job. She was quiet and parochial, whimpering about family and making a nonsense of some of the lines that made it clear she was a strong, intellectual firebrand who had run out of fight. I wanted to see Glenda Jackson, Susan Sarandon, Jane Fonda in the role.

And the Old Vic is too big. Better by far would have been the Trafalgar Studios, studio 2. It’s tiny, literally an underground bunker, where we would have been crowded together, sweating bullets and locked in. Complicit.

A pity.

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