Tim Robbins
The Actor's Gang at the Riverside Studios

production shot from Embedded

The arrival of a play satirising the politics of Bush's Iraqi venture, written and directed by a Hollywood superstar, is a glitzy occasion. The opening night attracted big-name stars from both sides of the Atlantic such as the playwright himself, Mary-Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. The hype was so great that the play was always going to struggle to live up to it.

Embedded is a collage of views of the War against Terror. This is given a timelessness by its setting in the biblical lands of Gomorah and Babylon and the search for The New Hitler, never named. This is reinforced by film projections of wars through the ages.

The funniest protagonists are the masked political disciples of Neo-conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, making hypocritical policies that kill their own people as well as the enemy.

Soldiers are given a humanity in the fond farewells and letters exchanged with family members. They are also represented by the almost fictional Private Jen Jen Ryan, kidnapped by the enemy but brainwashed and reinvented by her own side.

Most interesting to Robbins and his audience are the "embedded" journalists. These brave men and women have their independence compromised by military training and strict censorship. The former is instilled into them by the determinedly egalitarian ensemble's only real star, V.J.Foster as Colonel Hardchannel. He is chillingly funny throughout.

It is good to welcome Robbins' The Actors' Gang on their trip from Los Angeles. His direction is remarkably slick and does give a feel of what it must be like in a war zone. This owes a lot to Richard Hoover's minimalist scenic design, Adam H. Greene's lighting and particularly the unattributed soundscape, including loud rock music during the always rapid scene changes.

However, Embedded's satire is rarely surprising or shocking. Therefore, it lacks the bite and comedy of other attacks on similar lines such as that of another attendee, Justin Butcher's The Madness of George Dubya.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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