Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Verbatim Plays: Art Instigating Life (and Politics)

"Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom", a play presented here in Ithaca last month by local peace groups, is a staged reading of testimony by former detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, out of the reach of U.S. law.

The Tricycle Theater in London first presented the play in 2004. It was an immediate sensation, and quickly moved from a 240 seat theater in remote North London to the main theater district in the West End. It subsequently went to New York, and then around the world.

The newly-created form has been dubbed "verbatim theater." It uses real words of real people and dramatizes them. The result, according to critics and crowds, is gripping theater that illuminates real issues.

The Tricycle Theater has announced its next piece, an inquiry into the legality of Prime Minister Tony Blair's engagement of Great Britain into the invasion of Iraq by the United States.

The play, "Called To Account: The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq - A Hearing", is scheduled to open in London in May, in time for Blair's 10th anniversary as prime minister.

The text for the play will come from real-life cross-examinations of a panel of experts, both pro and con, by two leading British lawyers, which will be conducted next month. Twenty hours of testimony will be turned into a two-hour play by Richard Norton-Taylor, a journalist who has done other verbatim plays for Tricycle.

The names of the witnesses will reamin secret until the play opens.

"We are not starting from the premise that Blair is guilty, but from the premise that the whole thing needs to be aired," says Tricycle's artistic director, Nicolas Kent.

At a time when mainstream media has avoided challenging political authorities, non-traditional journalistic and artistic forces are exhibiting new relevance and power.

Specualtion is already rampant that Blair will soon vacate office. His approval rating in Britain is at an historic low, though not as low as President Bush's approval rating in the U.S. of 26 per cent.

There is no word yet whether a U.S. theater group will emulate the offerings of the Tricycle Theater. Perhaps when President Bush goes before the nation on Wednesday to ask for 20,000 more troops for Iraq, some real-life inquiry will begin.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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