September 11th

Kuhel Khalid
Red Zone Theatre
The Cockpit Theatre

September 11th Credit: Red Zone Tjheatre
September 11th Credit: Red Zone Tjheatre
September 11th Credit: Red Zone Tjheatre

The Iraqi theatre director Kuhel Khalid sometimes speaks about a memory that haunts him. It is of a man in a street in Iraq sweeping up body parts from some terrible atrocity of war.

This memory along with many other disturbing memories of the five wars he has lived through find their way into his show September 11th, a title that for most people links the West and the Middle East in a terrible cycle of violence.

The performance has three distinct elements.

At the back of the stage, a woman paints a huge canvas. It depicts the statue of Liberty standing between the twin towers. By the end of the show, she has painted flames emerging from the statue’s torch setting fire to the towers.

While she paints, a group of five very differently dressed characters perform an elaborate dumb show centre stage in which they create some kind of fractious community. They squabble and eat.

A humpbacked man in a Superman dressing gown tries on a number of occasions to sexually assault two women. Att one point he does the same to a dead sheep which had been placed on a red platform, perhaps in preparation for some religious ceremony. There is a constant sense of violence and danger.

Religion seems to bring them together for a period. A woman in a burka gives birth to a Kalashnikov, which they place on an alter next to a huge bullet. These are the objects they worship.

Soon they raise the flag of ISIS and this is the only point at which they seem to gain a voice as a masked figure steps forward to read one of that organisation’s strange proclamations.

As the violence towards each other increases, bodies begin to pile up on the stage. Every so often a strange figure with a huge broom walks forward to sweep the bodies into a heap.

The sequence is a surreal and uncomfortable depiction of the chaos and horror of war where it is increasingly difficult to trust anyone.

In a final section of the play when the bodies of the ISIS group line the stage, a suited security guard and a beautiful woman dressed like a fashion model step forward to reveal their version of the real danger to us.

The choreographed scenes of violence depicting the stupid waste of war offer no explanation for its causes. Neither does the show suggest how we might respond. It simply leaves us with unsettling images of absurdity and horror that have linked the West to the Middle East. 

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna