Justifying War - Scenes from the Hutton Inquiry

Edited by Richard Norton-Taylor
Tricycle, Kilburn
(2003)

In the after-show discussion on the opening night, Conservative MP Richard Shepherd described Justifying War as "a wider view of how we're governed". In many ways, it is far closer to a morality play by JB Priestley such as An Inspector Calls.

The play commences with a minute's silence for the late Dr David Kelly, the subject of the inquiry. It then proceeds, using nothing but the words of witnesses (not under oath) to the inquiry. These are edited, generally judiciously, by Richard Norton-Taylor, to present a two-and-a-half-hour stage performance.

As with An Inspector Calls, a series of individuals is interrogated largely by James Dingemans QC, played by a lugubrious Mark Penfold. Each has played a vital part in the death of Dr Kelly and all too often, these seem to be characters who are trying to save their own skins rather than shed light on the truth. By the end of the testimonies, it is apparent that several of them have there been lying but who knows which?

The most notable performances are by William Chubb as the very shifty looking BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan and the excellent Roland Oliver as Andrew McKinlay MP, a man who, while professing innocence, clearly feels a weight of guilt. If these two are Eric and his father from An Inspector Calls, then perhaps Susan Watts (Sally Giles) of Newsnight might be the sweet daughter.

By the end of the play, there is a general feeling of distrust in the individuals who have given testimony, whether journalist, politician, press officer or civil servant (and possibly spy). It is only really the last witness, Dr Kelly's arthritis-ridden widow Janice, who does not appear in court, that generates any real sympathy.

The court case and this play can be viewed on several different levels. To some, this is an indictment of government, to others it is a mere entertainment as exemplified by the laughs that Chubb and Oliver derived from making apparently serious but dubious statements.

By the end, it is apparent that Dr Kelly was a sometimes all too willing pawn. Like many Graham Greene protagonists, he got far too deeply involved in a process that got out of hand and finally led to his much-lamented early death.

It would be nice to feel that society will learn a great deal from both the inquiry and this production, skilfully directed by Nicolas Kent and Charlotte Westernra. Ultimately, the danger is that, following an initial outcry, everyone will go back to behaving exactly as they had before.

This is in no way to belittle the Tricycle's brave attempt to make a difference. While this is an unusual type of theatre, it is generally compelling and enlightening.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher