Were we lied to? Was it legal? Was it wrong? Was it avoidable? What were the consequences? Chilcot answers none of these questions. Chilcot cleverly presents you with seemingly neutral and unbiased real-life accounts that leave you questioning many of the motives behind the UK entering the war in Iran, then leaving you free to come up with your own conclusion.
Lung theatre, who are quickly establishing themselves as the new ‘go to’ politically motivated theatre company, bring us their latest play Chilcot. As a verbatim piece it consists solely of real-life testimonies that have been carefully edited together to make up a coherent show. In the case of Chilcot, the vast majority of these testimonies are, of course, taken from the Chilcot enquiry – the enquiry that has been investigating the legalities of our government’s (largely Tony Blair and his cabinet) motives and reasoning behind taking the UK into war in Iraq.
Powerfully staged, it aptly recreates the enquiry room that we have seen on our television screens. The stage is cool and clinical, with an excess of water bottles on the desks and TV screens in every corner all adding an icy, emotionless feel to the proceedings. Well-chosen testimonies are recreated before us. The rhetoric is broken up by contrasting testimonies from parents, who lost sons in the war, as well as testimonies from Iraqi residents – the latter providing us with the voices of people who are somehow always kept out of our media, adding an alternative perspective. It is a fair and balanced exhibition of the moral and legal justifications of entering the Iraq War, as well as blatantly displaying the chaotic and unorganised cabinet that led our country into combat. We are asked to witness rather than judge, yet given the evidence, even in such a pure form as this, it forces us to judge nonetheless.
A strong cast of six multi-role the various characters. They deal subtly with the complex rhetoric and remain impressively neutral in their delivery. They each perform with intelligence, understanding and delicate honesty. The piece is simply yet effectively directed by upcoming 23-year-old director Matt Woodhead; it is current and politically stimulating. It opens a debate and makes the audience question, which all good political theatre should do. The sound and lighting of the piece are also used as a clever tool. It breaks up the dialogue by adding a burst of pace and energy at moments where it potentially could have sat on one dynamic too long. It is all very cleverly and subtly constructed.
What Chilcot really highlights is the complete incompetence of an enquiry that, unbelievably, cost ten million pounds to complete. It is full of spin, rhetoric, blame shifting and sarcastic answers. We watch as the enquiry panel go round and round in circles, not able to come to any finite conclusions; it is hugely frustrating. In fact, no, it is infuriating that an enquiry that has cost twn million pounds and has lasted longer than the whole of the Second World War is likely to provide zero answers and hold no one accountable.
Chilcot is playing at the Battersea Arts Centre until 10 June. For more information and tickets, see the Battersea Arts Centre website. Photo: Joe Twigg