Guantanamo Boy

Dominic Hingorani, adapted from the novel by Anna Perera
Brolly Productions
Stratford Circus

Hamza Jeetooa as Khalid, a juvenile detainee, in Guantanamo Boy at Stratford Circus Credit: AP Wilding

A teenager writes explaining why he didn’t manage to finish his exams. He has been a prisoner in Camp Delta, the US Government facility at Guantanamo Bay. Why was Khalid, a teenage Muslim boy from Rochdale, incarcerated in the infamous prison camp on Cuba?

This is not a verbatim piece but a fictional story, based on Anna Perera’s novel for teenagers of the same name, which draws on published reports rather than personal interviews but there is no doubt that juveniles have been detained there by the US military, and the producers quote charity Reprieve’s claim that as many as 60 under 16-year-olds, some as young as 12, have been taken there as terrorist suspects. This could so easily be the story of one of them and making the protagonist a British boy gives it an extra resonance.

Khalid is a lively, ordinary lad whose mum dreams of him becoming a doctor as she chivvies him. A football mad teenager with a neat trick of flipping a ball backwards into the air and an eye for trainer style and into computer games and chatrooms, he is keen on Naimh, an Irish Catholic classmate, and his best friend is a black kid who has a flair for rap.

Could his anonymous computer contacts have been the reason US surveillance has him marked down as a terrorist?

When his grandfather dies in Pakistan, he goes out with his parents to support the family there. Searching for his father who has not come home one day, he happens, unknowingly, on a demonstration of some sort, and that’s when the Americans swoop and arrest him.

He is trapped uncomprehending in a system that assumes his guilt and uses deprivation and torture to extract information and force confession at the hands of a determined female officer, with even a more compassionate reservist guard automatically treating him as guilty.

It is a fast-moving piece that packs a great deal into its hour playing time. Short on explanation, it doesn’t seek to set out facts but uses detail to make things real. Played in the round, the audience is enclosed by television monitors, scaffolds, metal ladders and perforated metal screens, which can carry projections and later are drawn out across the playing space to cage Khalid. The strict regime is suggested simply but dramatically. A water boarding sequence, highly stylized using a vision of his mother drawing her shawl over him, makes its point with restraint; there is no exploitation of the inherent violence, though the production movingly captures the pain of the victim.

Imaginatively mounted by director Dominic Hingorani and designer Rachana Jadhav, it is played with feeling. Hamzah Jeetooa makes Khalid convincing in his carefree confidence and in his terror. Rina Fatamia is his mother, bouncily loving who also plays a co-prisoner, desperately advising him to go along and tell them anything they want to hear. Jonny Leigh-Wright plays his school mate, his energy in contrast to the more laid back character he give the detention camp guard and Ailish Symons delivers another well-defined double as enchanting Irish Naimh and as an unswervingly determined interrogator.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton