Bride of the Gulf
John M Meyer
Thinkery and Verse
Not long into the play Bride of the Gulf, two Shia militiamen in Basra are chatting about war films. One of them jokes they shouldn’t watch the end of the films because the Iraqis always have to die.
It is an observation that tells you a good deal about the point of view of films made in the West. When are they ever from the point of view of an Iraqi?
Bride of the Gulf is not only very conscious of this, it makes a point of shifting the focus.
Hero, (Karen Alvarado) an Iraqi woman, frames the show and it is her story that is central to its development. Some Arabic is spoken and the fleeting glimpses we get of the Western “visitors” are less than flattering.
Again our joking militiamen comically observe that, “if you have bombs and films then welcome to the first world.”
Jokes are a way of coping with disaster and a later chilling one from a civilian asks which of three men is the most evil? The first beats a woman, the second rapes the woman and the third just stands and watches before revealing he is her son.
When the irritated listener asks its relationship to Iraq, they are told the first man is Saddam, the second the Anglos and the third everyone who stood by and let it happen.
The play has lots of good moments. Hero’s story is particularly moving as she looks through five thousand images of dead and unidentified young men as she searches for her missing husband.
But the performance also feels clumsy. Too many things happen which are difficult to understand. The militiamen for instance are distracting when they attach streams of gaffer tape to the audience chairs.
Some of the things they say are also a puzzle. One woman says, “life is like a cucumber. You get one in the hand and ten in the side.”
And the way they speak (the English accent and phrasing) is off-putting. The writer explains that “we felt we wanted to honour the peculiar English of the collaborators.”
But if point of view is an issue then this is not the way they would speak when English speakers are not around, so why do it in the play? It doesn’t help understanding.
Curiously, when the British soldiers make an appearance just before they leave the country, they speak in a version of English never spoken in Britain and only ever used by actors catering for an American audience.
There was also something else about that appearance. Asked why they had left the place in such a mess, they blithely say they did what they could and anyway they have toured the play Blackwatch internationally.
I get the satiric point but it is a silly distraction and unfair to Gregory Burke’s very important anti-war play which is certainly not the view of those who sent the military to wreck Iraq.
Bride of the Gulf is a thoughtful play with many important things to say but it needs to be better structured, clearer in its presentation and shaven of a lot of its distractions.