Theatre Review: Remembering Iraq by Jo Alberti

War-torn Modern Iraq (Image: BBC)

By Ken Powell

On Sunday July 16 the Keswick and District Peace and Human Rights Group presented a fascinating short one-act drama about modern war-torn Iraq.

Performed by members of the Keswick Theatre Club, it was a courageous attempt to explore some of the complex and heart-wrenching issues behind the conflicts in the country. Normally when one watches a production by an amateur theatre company, you expect to see something frivolous and light. This play was far from all that.

Centring around a central character, Janet (played by Heidi Stafford), the play looks at her intentions and dreams with working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the invasion of 2003. Tormented by nightmares and a deep sense of shame and self-loathing for her failure to make any real difference, Janet ends up back in Iraq while the bloodshed continues, trying to face her demons and find some sense of how to continue living with both the turmoil within her and around her.

Jo Alberti’s script is clearly a labour of love and I assume comes from some kind of personal experience. Certainly, that’s what comes across in the performance. There is every danger, when presenting something from a British perspective, played by all British actors, that it can become condescending and really tell us nothing true about the situation and people themselves. This production stays on the right side of that. I came away with a greater understanding of those who went to help, as well as ever deepening sympathy for the Iraqis and all who fought believing they were going to make things better.

The history of the last 100 years of Iraq is, like most of that of the Middle East in general, complex and messy. No side comes out well; not the British, the Americans, the Russians, the Iranians – and not even the Iraqis themselves. Since World War II it seems that every turn of every government has been a wrong one. What makes it heart-breaking is that it is the children and mothers who suffer the consequences more than anyone else.

Alberti’s play then is an important one. It gives a voice, where the innocent have almost none and shouts to a people who need to be reminded that they are as responsible for what their governments do as those who make the decisions behind security-protected doors and share part of the blame and guilt that Janet feels.

It was pleasing to see a packed studio for this one-off performance. Someone, I hope this means, is still listening and still cares.