Collins Cohen Productions and Guy Masterson—Theatre Tours International Ltd in association with Park Theatre
For the second time this week I was faced with a stage marked out with a circular blue disk with a matching ring of blue light above it, but when the play began with the roar of a helicopter’s blades and the light changes colour, that tranquility is gone. 9 Circles: think Dante’s Inferno. This is a descent into Hell for young soldier Daniel E Reeves.
A grunt out in Iraq, he is being given an Honourable Discharge, but it makes him feel that he has done something wrong. It will turn out he had problems, went to see an army psychiatrist and was diagnosed with a personality disorder.
“Some things don’t bother me the way they bother other people,” he tells the Lieutenant discharging him, “The basics, sir: killing people.” His rearing and indoctrination has taught him that, in war, people are supposed to die.
Months later, back in the USA, he’s with a lawyer. At first, he thinks it’s a traffic accident he is up for. He admits, “I was drunk, I was driving.” But this is about something that happened in Iraq: the killing of civilians, the shooting of a whole family and rape of a young girl.
There are parallels with the case of actual US soldier Steven Dale Green, sentenced in 2009 for similar killings, but Daniel’s descent into Hell is different and is strikingly played by Joshua Collins. This isn’t a portrait of a psychopath, nothing so simple. It was he who sought help from the psychiatrist. He’s upset about the killing of a dog yet claims not to care about the girl, yet her killing he did as a sort of kindness and he showed compassion to his dying sergeant until the last moment.
9 Circles premièred in the States 12 years ago, but this is the first European staging. Director Guy Masterson delivers an in-the-round production that produces a powerful empathy. We can’t get inside this boy’s head, except perhaps in his final moments, we have to watch from outside, but it makes watchable theatre.
Duncan Henderson’s setting and Tom Turner’s lighting concentrate the attention like a microscope and the other characters, so useless in supporting him, get fine supporting performances. Daniel Bowerbank’s alcoholic Pastor, Samara Neely Cohen’s psychiatrist and lawyers and David Calvitto’s two attorneys play their part in Daniel’s story then back out again. They are not just ciphers, but they never take attention away from him. It is a nineteen-year-old private who is in the dock, not the recruiters who saw him as soldier material, not his officers, not the Generals, not the politicians who put him in Iraq in the first place.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton