The Collector

Henry Naylor

Henry Naylor / Gilded Balloon

Gilded Balloon

From 30 July 2014 to 25 August 2014

Rating: ***

Review by Graeme Strachan

The most bizarre and surprising thing about The Collector isn't the setting, the concept or even the style of the play. It's how bizarrely and incorrectly marketed and sold it was.

Moreover, the billing of the show as satirical horror, especially with the ghost story-esque beginning, leads the audience into a misguided sense of unfullfillable confusion. It's neither a horror story, nor a satirically funny one, which is unfortunate given the pedigree of the writing.

It's 2003, and in an unpleasant but workable corner of Iraq, a series of very human interactions are occurring in and around an abandoned prison. The US armed forces based there are using the facility to house prisoners of war and suspected terrorists.

As ever, power is beginning to corrupt and the bureacracy and interdepartmental squabbles between the Army and the Intelligence services simply serve to encourage rule-breaking, confusion and inhuman behaviour.

The tale is well told by a trio of talking heads,: the Prison's ostensible overseer, Captain Kasprowicz, Foster, his chief interrogator, and Zoya, future wife of the new interpreter, a hip-hop loving Iraqi DJ. Through their narration, a tale of betrayals, love, misplaced loyalties, anger, revenge and tragedy is woven around the audience. One that is both shocking, touching and ultimately inevitable.

The play itself then unfortunately doesn't quite live up to the promise of the concept and the various factors in play. The stories at times become confusing, with a few red herrings and dead end narrative strands which feel like they are taking away from the points of most interest.

The biggest issue is probably in the staging, with actors stomping in and out of a black-curtained stage with a single spotlit chair and, inexplicably, an ugly and distracting backdrop of the play's poster in silhouette. It gives the entire production a cheap feeling that it could have avoided.

The actors acquit themselves well enough, making the audience believe in the characters and situation. That is until they next swap awkwardly offstage for a new transition.

The final result is a play that is interesting, and a novel take on the horrors of the conflict from a distinctly new and novel area, but one which should have been billed as a modern tragedy.