Toy Soldier

Jonathon Crewe
Who Said Theatre
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Stanley Eldridge centre with Louisa Smith and Stanley Eldridge and Bruce Kitchener
Louisa Smith with Stanley Eldridge (right) and Bruce Kitchener (left)
Bianca Beckles-Rose as Britten with Bruce Kitchener (rear)

Only a few days ago it was announced that there are plans for the military to slide out from under the obligations of the European Convention on Human Rights during future conflicts.

This move is made possible by the Convention's signatories taking advantage of its derogation provisions, and it is being justified by the claim that soldiers will be able to take difficult decisions on the battlefield.

Our government asserts for this purpose that the European Convention on Human Rights, with its opt outs, applies over that pillar of international humanitarian legislation that is the Geneva Convention.

Whether this move is welcome or worrying depends a lot on one's perspective but the fact that the exemption does not apply to torture or illegal killing is only a thin thread of hope to hang on to.

This Conservative Party Conference announcement gives Jonathan Crewe's play Toy Soldier a certain topicality.

In this courtroom drama, the accused is Donna Britten, a service woman on trial for the torture and death of a detainee in her custody at Basra Detention Centre.

Britten is a young woman who joined the army because there was nothing else on offer.

Initially she is portrayed simply as under–educated and naïve and seemingly unaware of the Geneva Convention—"[she] was trained to obey" and "[she] followed orders".

Then evidence emerges that whilst at Basra she was under the hold of, and in love with, a sadistic and manipulative senior officer, Christopher Grange, whose idea of a laugh was putting razor blades in prisoners' food.

The court also hears reports of visits from posh men in suits telling them to keep up the good work, thus incriminating the authorities.

So who is to blame for the death of the detainee, asks Toy Soldier?

The descriptions and recordings of the military's standard "softening up" techniques don't make easy listening, but the stench of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal has whorled around us for 12 years now, diminishing the scenes' ability to shock.

The play's familiar courtroom device of putting "the system" on trial in parallel with the accused is also undermined by the equally shameful decade-old Extraordinary Rendition scandal. We know that stink blew around the halls of Westminster.

When information changes hands between the pally lawyers, it is clear that both sides want the same verdict, albeit for different motives, thus making the legal system complicit in grubby goings on too.

Writer Jonathon Crewe's script is unrefined and the cliché of the accused soldier being called Britten nagged persistently.

His representation as writer and director of court action is unconvincing and he failed to adapt his radio play sufficiently for a stage, with the narrative being broken by the frequent scene changes becoming an annoyance.

Bianca Beckles-Rose as Britten gives a thoughtful performance. Louisa Smith and Stanley Eldridge manage ably against the odds as the two ex–Oxbridge advocates. Bruce Kitchener supports as the Judge.

The ensemble do their best with this well–intentioned piece but burgeoning Who Said Theatre company needs to be more discerning with its script selection.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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