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Palace of the End

Judith Thompson
Red Handed Theatre Company
Arcola Theatre
(2010)

Palace of the End production photo

The Iraq war is set to fascinate people for years to come. Only last week were David Kelly's files made public, but conspiracy theories still, and will always, abound. Will we ever get to the bottom of the Iraq War? Can the government ever be trusted? Trust and power, or rather the misuse of these two concepts, is one of the key themes of Palace of the End, which takes up home at the Arcola Theatre until 20th November.

A large mirror adorns the back wall of Studio Two; a symbol of reflection. Smoke and mirrors and the Iraq War seem to go hand in hand, and the three stories in Judith Thomson's triptych take audience members on an enlightening journey through this looking glass.

The female US soldier of the first monologue once appeared in Annie Get Your Gun at High School. Later enrolling in the army and equipped with her own gun, she soon discovered how difficult it is to remain professional when confronted with terrorists and the need to obtain vital life-saving intelligence. As she recounts episodes from her childhood, it soon becomes clear that 'bullied' turns to 'bully'. What's the difference between making someone eat a bit of dirt as a child and making someone eat their own faeces as an adult? Palace of the End throws up many such questions and encourages its audience to consider the effects of power.

Knowledge is power, or so they say, and Dr David Kelly certainly possessed immense knowledge in regards to Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Kelly had the power to topple the regime, but in doing so, ultimately toppled himself. Knowing the truth can be a difficult thing to live with; knowing that you could have stalled or prevented a war is even harder.

The third tale told is that of Nehrjas, an Iraqi woman tortured under Saddam Hussein. Nehrjas' story is one of harrowing braveness and demonstrates how each individual in the triptych shares many commonalities.

Just like Nehrjas, Kelly and the US soldier were also brave. They too came face to face with power and had to deal with it in the way they thought best; the course of history can change in a split second and decisions are hard things to make.

Under Jessica Swale's direction, Jade Williams, Robin Soans and Imogen Smith effortlessly bring their characters to life, capturing their very essence and sharing it with the audience as they talk to, not at. Locking eye contact with audience members as they orate, the audience suddenly becomes the jury whilst the proceedings play out. Judgements must be made; where does the guilt for such atrocities lie? When faced with people in place of facts, figures and media spin such judgement is hard to pass and emotions run high.

Thompson's writing captures the scatological nature of language perfectly and this makes the representation of such characters even more realistic and engaging as the piece becomes a reflective 'Audience with....' What did these people really want to say? Who were they deep down inside? What was their motivation? Although not in the realms of Verbatim theatre, Palace of the End is a suggestive representation of events that actually happened and each monologue puts across its argument in a most convincing way.

The ghosts of the past in Palace of the End act as a chilling reminder that there is much to be done and still much more to be learnt in the quest for peace. With Remembrance Sunday just around the corner, we remember and pay tribute to all those servicemen and women and innocent citizens who lost their lives due to war. Lest we forget.

Playing until 20th November 2010.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen