Pedro and the Captain
The play Pedro and the Captain by Mario Benedetti opens with a striking image. In a grey metal room, a bruised, hooded figure with his hands tied behind his back stands shivering, perhaps from fear or cold.
It is an image that is reminiscent of the pictures that emerged from the American torture chambers of Abu Ghraib. But this is Latin America many years back and the victim we later learn is there because he is believed to be a communist.
The Captain (David Acton) who enters the room to interrogate the victim Pedro (Joseph Wilkins) spends the first thirty minutes trying to convince the victim that unless he tells them what they want to know then the torture will get worse. Referring to the electric shocks and other brutality, which he claims breaks every prisoner, he offers a deal which would secure his release. The victim simply shakes his head.
Each scene begins as the latest torture session has just ended and the Captain arrives simply to talk He becomes increasingly frustrated with the lack of cooperation.
Both actors give a clear, convincing performance. David Acton as the Captain conveys an air of amiable menace that hides an underlying insecurity.
An attempt to dramatically explore the psychology of a torturer and oppose torture has lost none of its urgency since this play was written thirty-five years ago. We have only to think of the horrors that continue in the American prison on Guantanamo Bay, or the antics some time back of Britain in Northern Ireland. The company recognises the continuing sensitivity of the issue by giving all audience members the details of the organisation Reprieve which works with victims of torture.
The production is well performed and technically impressive from its bleak harsh set by Luke Harcourt to the detailed careful direction of Miguel Hernando Torres Umba.
The problem with the play is the text itself. It lacks both dramatic tension and any complex shading of the characters. Pedro is the heroic decent person. He even has some good funny lines which made the audience laugh. For instance, when the Captain says he tortures because he hates communists, Pedro replies, "so does the Pope but he doesn’t torture." It’s a good line but it doesn’t give us a rounded character.
The Captain is a weak villain. The play too easily lets us know that he is morally wrong but carries on with his torture just to prove himself successful. He has no complex arguments. He doesn’t even claim he is saving society. Instead he could be played as a Dalek simply repeating the line "resistance is futile".
Repeatedly saying the same thing might be part of the torture the Captain wants to inflict on Pedro but it is not a good idea to do the same to the audience.
There are no surprising revelations or interesting political debates or any sense that the play is going anywhere we can’t easily predict from the first few moments of the play.
Blackboard Theatre has produced a good performance of a weak text that may encourage an audience to recommend the company to their friends. They are unlikely to do the same for this particular play.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna