Tactical Questioning: Scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry

Edited by Richard Norton-Taylor
Tricycle Theatre

Tactical Questioning production photo

Verbatim is always going to have the potential to be harder hitting than most theatre. The Tricycle Theatre has become particularly known for it, and often goes hand-in-hand with Richard Norton-Taylor. Tactical Questioning is the latest from these two leaders in verbatim theatre, a condensed version of the enquiry into the death of suspected Iraqi insurgent Baha Mousa. In 2003, British soldiers detained the civilian; he died on his second day of custody with 93 wounds to his body.

Richard Norton –Taylor has carefully selected the extracts from the enquiry, giving us a broad overview of the people involved and the problems faced. In an office-like courtroom, we first hear the evidence of Detainee 002 (Lewis Alsamari), who tells us of his mistreatment: beatings, sleep deprivation, hooding, stress positions – inhumane and illegal under the Geneva convention.

With precision and dignity, Thomas Wheatley playing the Counsel to the Inquiry, Gerard Elias QC, asks the questions, taking us from a seemingly simple matter of gross misconduct to the wider questions: who should be taking responsibility? Should soldiers be trained to question bad orders?

As more witnesses are brought in, we see those who take responsibility and those who don’t. From the straight forward though damning answers from the soldiers involved, we go to a cagier Lieutenant and Major, up to a Lieutenant Colonel who protested at the time, finally ending with The Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP (a good performance from Simon Rouse) who dodges and evades every single question.

This last extract is particularly shocking: in a fictional play, the evidence Ingram gives would be classed as unrealistic dialogue. As it is, it’s just unbelievable.

Although the dialogue, being the words used in actual court case, requires a lot of attention, it is clear and easy to follow, even as the case becomes more convoluted with moral difficulties. Whilst it is clear that many soldiers acted inhumanely, we are told that they themselves were under severe stress. If it is inhumane and illegal to deprive prisoners of sleep, why is it allowed for soldiers to be working 20 hour days, in the blazing Iraqi heat and ill-prepared for the struggles they faced?

The play doesn’t tell us much that we couldn’t find ourselves, but what it does is put everything in a clearly and cohesively, in one place, and puts it all in frightening perspective. From the shamed soldiers to the evasive MP, it’s one thing to read about it, another entirely to see it.

There is very little staging or drama in this play, and some might suggest its not proper theatre at all. It’s not enjoyable in the traditional sense, but it is informative, intriguing and evocative. It’s rather like watching the news without the option of the mute button or a cup of tea. Some won’t like it; others will go back for a second viewing.

Reviewer: Emma Berge

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