In 2005, an 84-page interrogation log detailing the tactics and methods used on detainees IN Guantánamo Bay by the US military became accessible to the public – and, more notably, to the US media. The log described how physical and psychological interrogation methods were executed over long periods of time, including prolonged sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, physical abuses, and the execution of a sexual humiliation strategy titled ‘Invasion of Space by a Female’. The method is used to describe a number of tactics involving female interrogators straddling prisoners and molesting them, rubbing the neck and hair of prisoners, and even forced nudity.
“Show me what democracy looks like, I am what democracy looks like, show me what America looks like, I am what America looks like.”
Twenty-five year old Alice (Penny Layden) is an interrogator at Guantánamo Bay with best friend and moral arbiter Riva (Nathalie Armin). When a new memo arrives straight from Washington permitting any female officers or soldiers to execute the US Military’s latest tactics, Alice jumps at the opportunity to use her sexuality as a form of strategic torture. Years later, Alice has a daughter, Rhiannon (Greer Dale-Foulkes, who is extraordinary) and the hallucination medication that she used to take as though they were Tic Tacs have robbed her of her memories. Well, her conscious ones at least. Rhiannon grows increasingly interested in her mother’s military past. Despite her father’s (Christian Bradley) repeated warnings, the curious 14 year old can’t help but probe her mother on every available occasion. All is blissful until Bhasir, a former prisoner, decides to pay a visit to the woman who made his life a living hell. Bhasir (Antony Bunsee) has a month to live and is in desperate need of a liver transplant; the result of falling ill whilst a Gitmo prisoner. He pleads with a confused Alice for her help – they share the same blood type – offering the medical donation as a form of redemption. The only problem is that Alice can’t remember Bhasir or any of the terrible things that he accuses her of. What follows in Cowhig’s fascinating text is an exploration of the human condition – the ability to survive horrors by tricking the mind, the ability to forget and move past traumatic stress, the ability to become something other than the role that once defined you.
“Sometimes a role resurrects things you killed off as a child because people thought they were wrong.”
Takis’s design is stark, sterile and works brilliantly. Set in the round at Trafalgar Studios 2, scaffolding lined with lights creates a cuboid skeleton in which the majority of the play’s action takes place. Coupled with Matt Prentice’s severe lighting design, Cowhig’s character’s quickly find themselves within a cage not dissimilar to the one that Bhasir describes. The crispness of the production’s design is echoed in Amos’s costume design, which sees characters sporting identical white uniform, decorated with various defining qualities, most prominent being the almost iconic orange jumpsuit. After examining the script, it becomes clear that director Steven Atkinson and his design team have washed the colour even from elements noted in the original text. The result is a bleak palette in which only the items that Atkinson felt bore crucial relevance become prominent. It’s simple but extremely effective.
I could gush about this production for pages. The cast possess a wonderful earnestness and it’s obvious that Atkinson, (who has directed the piece since its debut at the High Tide festival in 2010 and is the company’s Artistic Director) has driven the piece with a clear confidence. And he should be confident: every line is delivered in a way that allows audience members to devour them in huge hungry chunks and pull from them ream upon ream of meaning. Nothing is wasted, each element is clean and succinct whilst remaining utterly engaging. This production engulfs you.
Lidless is playing at the Trafalgar Studios until 2nd April. For more information and to book tickets see The Trafalgar Studios website here.