The Island Nation raises awareness of the longest war in Asian history- the Sri Lankan civil war. Playwright Christine Bacon (Artistic Director of Iceandfire theatre company) describes this event as a “black hole in history.”
This largely unreported war spanned almost twenty six years between 1983 to 2009 and resulted in the deaths of around 100,000 people including tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the last few months of the war. The Island Nation sheds light on this atrocity which the UN and the rest of the world shut its eyes against. This story, which is based on true events, features varying perspectives; a British Aid worker, a young Tamil woman, a Norwegian politician, the Sri Lankan president, the UN and representatives for the Tamil Tigers.
The themes of morality are played out as well as the play explores ideas of the white saviour; the political motivations for humanitarian aid and Britain’s colonial past. The war has a complex political past and of course there are a myriad of causes which the play touches on. The Island Nation starts with an overload of videos and images of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) such as the army, children waving, soldiers, and other various images of war. This sensory overload gives a snapshot of the devastation launching into the political negotiations and the difficulties in achieving peace. The set is a simplistic bare stage with two white door frames.
Primarily Britain’s intervention in Sri Lanka as well as the Sinhalese oppression of the Tamil community led to the formation of the Tamil Tigers- a terrorist group which fought the oppressive government in order to create a Tamil independent state. The government succeeded in preventing this from happening. The aftermath of this war is still felt by the people.
The performers were extremely talented and honestly conveyed the story which was inspired by true events. Nikki Patel plays a traumatised and sympathetic Tamil girl. Ayesha Dharker is compelling in her roles of the former president Chandrika Kumaratunga, American UN worker, Jenny; and a mother encouraging her child to persevere as they are caught up in the bloody aftermath. Claire Dargo is a frustrated aid worker attempting to navigate the complexities of the UN.
The play spans two thirds of the 26 year crisis, and therefore the complexity of the war cannot be encapsulated in a mere 90 minutes. However, this play is opening the door for discussion, and most importantly putting Sri Lanka’s history on stage.
The Island Nation is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 19 November. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.
Photo: Jon Holloway