Henry Naylor’s topical horror story The Collector is haunted by the now infamous photograph of a hooded man forced to stand, arms outstretched, during his torture in Abu Ghraib prison. This terrible and symbolic figure hangs behind the performers on a screen and looms over the audience like a ghostly reminder of the atrocities committed by US guards in Iraq. As if we could forget.
Before the allies took over, this was one of Saddam Hussein’s most notorious jails. American Captain Kasprowicz (William Reay) tells us that when they arrived the place was rigged up with chains, bloodied straps and trap doors. Some of his soldiers think it’s haunted but there is no fear in his voice. Kasprowicz speaks of the takeover with an unfailing and patriotic pride. It’s not long before the victory turns sour and the American guards replace the spectral screams of Saddam’s regime with the cries of their own inhumane rule. Then Kasprowicz’s voice catches with his despair as he recollects the horrors, humiliations and deaths that he witnessed when power fell into the wrong hands.
The Collector is told through three monologues with the characters – two Americans and one Iraqi – taking turns to share their third of the story under a bright, interrogating spotlight. First we meet Zoya (Ritu Arya), a young Iraqi woman who bonded with her fiancé Nasir over a shared love of Eminem and loves him to the bitter end, even though that end is worse than death. Next comes Captain Kasprowicz and then Foster (Lesley Harcourt), both service people of the US Military who worked with Nasir while he was a translator and their greatest weapon in the daily battle for confessions. The action of The Collector all happens in the past and off stage but that doesn’t detract from the power of story that they tell between them. What they unveil, piece by horrifying piece, is a difficult and very human struggle of allegiance, betrayal and the brutal potential of mankind.
The Collector tells the tragedy of a part of recent history we would rather leave behind but have to hear – an Arabian nightmare that is gripping to the last moment. It’s a great shame then that its carefully constructed story is undermined by a handful of untidy plot details, patchy performances and Naylor’s own direction. In other hands it might have been devastating.
The Collector is at Gilded Balloon (Venue 14) until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.