After winning a Fringe First at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, The Collector is at the Arcola for a week showing off its critical treatment of the war in Iraq. Henry Naylor has written a highly detailed and engrossing story told through three actors, each in turn vividly conveying their tales in word and gesture. Ritu Arya as Zoya sees her country invaded and tastes both the promise of freedom and the bitterness of war, while William Reay as American captain Kasprowicz and Lesley Harcourt as an interrogator become frustrated of their fellow soldiers’ behaviour and ultimately become victims of the battle too. Their speeches, as they take turns to look the audience in the eye, are testimonies as much of this war as of any other recent conflict in which human brutality was laid bare.
All converge to Nassir’s story, an Iraqi working as an interpreter for the American interrogators. Urging girlfriend Zoya to wear Western clothes and rapping to Eminem, he wants change and revolution. When he is recognised by an enemy, he soon appears on a hit list and all hell breaks loose for both him and Zoya. Meanwhile, the prisoners in the American camps are being treated horribly, in part due to the unclear regulations (“There were so many rules there were none”, sighs Kasprowicz). In the opening sequence, Arya has pointed to the infamous Stanford prison experiment, reminding us that to an extent, it is human nature to abuse others in the role of prisoner. The pictures taken of the humiliation and torture of inmates still haunt collective memory.
A work of pristine simplicity, The Collector offers nothing to remove focus from the actors. There are three stools with a light bulb hanging over each, and that’s it as far as the set goes. The actors sit down when silent and get up to take the stage; there is little interaction between them even though they are telling the same story (albeit from different angles) – perhaps an idea for a future development?
In the intimate Arcola studio, Harcourt especially convinces as the defiant and clever interrogator who is repulsed at the lawlessness and the Americans’ use of violence as the war becomes messier and takes more victims. Even the short-lived romance between her and Kasprowicz is believable and adds a human touch to what is officially a professional engagement.
With a fresh war happening in the same region, The Collector is a timely piece of drama about the chaos in combat and the viciousness power instills in human beings.
The Collector is playing the Arcola until 22 November. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.