Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: How Many Miles to Basra? - Oct 06

From Monday, October 16, 2006

Last night M and I went to see Colin Teevan's play How Many Miles to Basra? which we both expected to be somewhat depressing, overly political and to which neither of us was particularly looking forward. It says something about M's 1930s disciplined Prussian upbringing and my devotion to her that we did bother to get ourselves to Leeds on such a damp foggy night to watch something neither of us thought would be much good.

It's a good thing we did make the effort, because we couldn't have been more wrong. It turned out to have been one of the best things we've ever seen, out of the hundreds of astonishingly diverse performances we've enjoyed.

Enjoyed isn't the right word, but it was massively thought-provoking and it drew us right into what was happening to the extent that at the end it was a shock to realise we were sitting in the West Yorkshire Playhouse and not by the roadside in Basra or an executive office of the BBC.

It wasn't just the quality and complex depth of the script, or the authenticity of the acting. The set and stage management were stunning too, and all three qualities with some genius special effects combined to make for a stunning play.

I think what it succeeded in doing was to make the audience see what's been happening in Iraq from the point of view of everyone concerned:

- an 18-year old soldier who had unmanageable credit card debts and needed to be there to avoid his creditors and earn some money while there was nowhere to spend it;

- an older veteran of the troubles in Ireland who didn't really want to go home and confront his marriage problems but turned out to display the most humanity and sense of fairness and truth;

- a more regular, biased, violent squaddie who called Iraqis ragheads and refused to look upon them as human beings in case he was made to think about what was happening to them;

- a funny, young, unintelligent soldier who just followed orders but was basically a good person;

- a journalist obsessively in search of reporting *the truth* despite the best efforts of BBC executives who needed to appease the 'Ruperts' (politicians and military executives).

- an Iraqi driver who had once been an archaeologist paid by the British to look after the relics of Mesopotamia but who, after the death by bombing of his wife and daughter, was ostensibly only interested in making money.

- the Bedouin tribesmen and their separate intrinsic system of honour and hospitality into which the above characters were all drawn.

Anyone watching the play couldn't help but to view the Iraq war and Iraq as a country in a completely different, more human and historical light. Also they couldn't fail to be shocked and disgusted by the brutal military actions of the West. But by the same token it showed that some aspects of Iraq have benefited, even though so much has been destroyed. Saddam dammed up the Euphrates, starving thousands of acres of Bedouin land of water. One of the tribesmen's first acts on hearing of the collapse of Saddam's regime was to break down his dams and re-irrigate the region.

Anyone who has chance to go and see this play should definitely not miss the opportunity.

“My wife is dead. My daughter is dead. My work strewn to the four winds. My life is dust.
Nothing could make me feel better. But I shall drive on.” (Malek, p59)

“If we are to put out material that contradicts the official version, we must be seen to be
whiter than white.” (Tariq, p107)

“When you go down the Job Centre and ask about careers in the army, they show you
tanks rolling through woodlands and guys patrolling through trees with twigs sticking out
of their helmets. They don’t show you what it looks like when your mate’s arm’s been
blown off and you’ve shot a man.” (Geordie, p74)

posted by Gill at 11:23 AM 2 comments


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