Review: 'Called to Account'
2 May 2007
As Tony Blair prepares to clear his desk,
Along with a defence team, Professor Sands interrogated members of the Cabinet, intelligence experts, military decision-makers and other high-powered 'witnesses' about the path to war in Iraq for London's Tricycle Theatre, known for its dramatisations of the real-life Stephen Lawrence, Hutton and Bloody Sunday inquiries. The resulting evidence has been edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, Security Affairs Editor of 'the Guardian' to form 'Called to Account: The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq - A Hearing'.
The play is an unsettling experience, exposing how determined obfuscation can lead a supposedly democratic country to war on unclear grounds and with shifting objectives. The intimacy of 'The Tricycle' creates an appropriate claustrophobia as the ineluctable approach to invasion becomes clear. The bald office furniture and unflinching lighting remain unchanged throughout, focusing all attention on the series of 11 witnesses and their evidence, by turns harrowing, emotional and truly bewildered.
Raad Rawi as Dr Shirwan Al-Mufti, an exiled Kurdish academic, provides a harsh reminder to the likely anti-Blair audience that Saddam Hussein's regime deserved no sympathy, graphically and patiently describing the torture meted out to its opponents and his country's decline under the tyrant.
Diane Fletcher as Clare Short is astonishing as the former Secretary of State for International Development. She drew gasps then tears as she described Blair's move towards 'sofa-style' government that sidesteps official, minuted meetings, sidelines troublesome ministers and lets down the British electorate. She revealed that, desperate for information, she had sought out Cherie Booth - who works, incidentally, at Matrix Chambers along with the four barristers involved in the play - who reassured her that war would never take place.
The attitude of Michael Mates, played with convincing bumptiousness by Roland Oliver, drives home that any quest for an ultimate truth is a wild goose chase. The outgoing Conservative MP, who investigated the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as part of the Butler review - batted off several direct questions with a brusque "Is that in the public domain?"
Thomas Wheatley as Philippe Sands is courteous but persistent, illiciting profound misgivings from most witnesses, as well as a rare light-hearted moment when Clare Short mused whether Blair could be found guilty of the crime of aggression if he was delusional and honestly believed the contradictory assurances he gave to different parties before the war.
One could argue that the play only presents another limited version of events, as only a fraction of the evidence gathered made the final cut. The full transcripts are, however, available for purchase, and the defence brought up fresh perspectives for consideration - such as the fact that many wars are not sanctioned by the UN.
There was no vote at the end, but this was a shrewd move. Instead of a facile, self-congratulation at 'sending Tony down', the audience left with a sense of unease at the way shifts in position and prods in convenient directions can have such a cumulatively devastating outcome. As Blair prepares to leave Downing Street, many who see this play will echo his own words that: "the world is a better place because dictators have been removed".
'Called to Account' runs at the Tricycle Theatre until 19 May.
By Lara Carim, UCL Communications