BWW Reviews: GIBRALTAR, Arcola Theatre, March 28 2013
25 years on, The Troubles seem distant - terrorism now is a threat rather than a reality for the vast majority of Brits and Irish, causing inconvenience more than mayhem.
But in 1988, a war was grinding on right here, on British and European soil. Its combatants grew up cheek-by-jowl, separated by history rather than culture, animated by romance as much as religion.
25 years ago, three unarmed Irish terrorists, part of an active service unit working in Gibraltar, were shot down by SAS officers, sparking fervent debate over the existence or otherwise of a "Shoot to Kill" policy and a secondary debate about the ethics of journalism. So perhaps not everything has changed.
In Gibraltar (at the Arcola Theatre until 20 April), Alastair Brett and Sian Evans create the conversations that tell the story of the aftermath of those deaths on The Rock. Basing their characters on some easily recognised principals of the events (and some not so easily recognised), they interpolate into their text real quotes from the television programme that so infuriated the British government, the inquest into the deaths and the debate in the House of Commons. What emerges is a truth, but not the truth.
Director James Robert Carson (what a surname for a play like this!) works with just four actors on a tight square stage with big, boxy 80s televisions hanging low, bringing some sense of the claustrophobic atmosphere of life on The Rock, a place where everyone knows everyone and what's allowed by the law in books isn't always the same as what's allowed by the law in action. It's not a pretty sight.
Greer Dale-Foulkes plays the young TV journalist (Amelia) out to make her name and win awards, as an idealist, a believer in journalism as a pure Fourth Estate, its role to hold the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary to account when they stray into sharper practices. George Irving's Nick is her counterpoint, the old hand who knows that all is not as it seems, especially amongst the duckers and divers on the drug runs of the Costa del Crime.
If their parts are somewhat dry and familiar, the play really sparks into life when Billy McColl's Tommy explains how things work in and around Gib and, less explicitly, in the darker recesses of British Intelligence. Karina Fernandez rather steals the show as Rosa, the local interpreter / fixer, whose eyewitness account is at the heart of the television programme and whose character is subsequently assassinated in an orchestrated press campaign. But it's the most ill of winds that blows no good to a woman as resourceful as Rosa, and she's doing OK by the end of the play.
There's lots of exposition in a show like this, but it's still very much worth spending 15 minutes reading the excellent programme before going in. You can also expect actors in small studio-based productions like this to play multiple roles, but I feel that investing in a couple of additional actors, thereby allowing the main cast to stick to their roles, would benefit the production - it's hard to weigh one's belief in a character when the actor suddenly adopts a different voice and demeanour to play a bit part.
Ultimately, in March 2013, we are no closer to knowing what actually happened in March 1988 - and the world has moved on, so now we never will. War, especially a war in the streets with terrorists and special operations soldiers, is a messy business and its reporting reflects that. Gibraltar acknowledges those truths and leaves us with a view of life without true heroes, without evil villains, without reliable answers. Real life - in other words. .