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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Talking to Terrorists
Royal Court Theatre       Summer 2005

This co-production of the Royal Court and the touring Out of Joint company is another in a recent mini-trend of dramatised documentaries.

Some researchers go out and interview real people and the person credited as dramatist - here, Robin Soans - selects, edits and arranges the transcripts, which actors then perform.

There's an inherent weakness to this mode, and only a very few examples, like David Hare's recent Stuff Happens, manage to transcend it.

Like too many others, Talking to Terrorists is simply not a play, and has the air of a graduate student research paper being read aloud by members of the class.

So we hear the words of a few politicians and diplomats, a psychologist, Irish paramilitary men from both sides, some Kurdish guerillas, an African child soldier, and the like.

Some appear to be real life figures (in a couple of cases far too coyly unidentified), while the others might be composites or inventions.

And what do we learn? That terrorism is a bad thing, but many terrorists are fighting against evil regimes, and if you get to know them personally they're not all that different from you and me.

Well, if you want to spend a long, undramatic evening in the theatre to learn this, here it is.

The few hints of interesting insight are either neutralised by carefully balanced opposite views or otherwise undercut, as in the case of the British ambassador to one of the -stans who blows the whistle on the West's for-its-own-reasons exaggeration of the terrorist threat where he is, only to have him presented as a bit of nutcase.

There isn't even much to hold you in the direction by Max Stafford-Clark, mainly a matter of people walking onstage, having their say, and walking off, or in the acting.

One notices a couple of the characters being given verbal or physical tics - a stammer, a touch of forgetfulness - which might be imitations of the originals but come across as desperate actors' tricks.

This is one of the few areas in which theatre is simply inferior to cinema or TV. If this were a documentary film, and the talking heads were the actual people, it might make up in solid authenticity for what it lacked in drama or point-of-view.

But when what you see are actors playing characters who may or may not be real, you become too aware that there is simply no play here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Talking To Terrorists - Royal Court Theatre 2005

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