Walking into the theatre at London‘s ICA, the first thing you could see was the stall covered with Stop the War Coalition leaflets for the demonstration on 27 September. Then, looking at the play‘s programme, there was a full-page advert for the demo, and a list of useful websites which included www.socialistreview.org.uk. Before the play started, a speaker from the Stop the War Coalition gave a brief speech about the horrors of the occupation in Iraq, and called for people in the audience to come on the demo and bring their friends. All of these things made me pretty well disposed to like The War is Dead, Long Live the War before a word of it had been spoken.
Socialist poet and playwright Patrick Jones may be familiar to regular readers of Socialist Review, for the poems he has written for this magazine, and for his play Everything Must Go, which explored the lives of young people in the Welsh valleys, scarred by unemployment and hopelessness.
The War is Dead, Long Live the War opens in a darkened room. Two men meet. One of them, Black (Paul Amos), has been there a long time. The other, White (Chris Lennard), has just arrived. White is a soldier from the war on Iraq. He is confused and frightened, doesn‘t know where he is, and just wants to get home. Black seems more resigned, and we soon find out why – he has been there for 85 years, since his execution for desertion in the First World War.
At first White talks about the Iraq war as just – he sounds like he believes Blair and Bush‘s propaganda. Black, who has seen it all before, is much more cynical. We are supposed to sympathise with the articulate Black, who quotes the First World War poets, and dislike the incoherent White, with his macho posturing, his racism, and his belief in the superiority of the west.
But it all turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. Through White, we are reminded of the economic conscription that leaves young working class men feeling like they have no alternative but to join the army. And as the play progresses, we learn that behind the bravado, White harbours a terrible secret.
Jones‘s writing is as powerful as ever, using the writings of the First World War poets, as well as his own original poetry, to great effect to show that the horrors of that war continue to this day. Amos and Lennard are both brilliant in portraying the soldiers, and the production uses a very simple set to great effect.
If you get the opportunity when this play tours, go and see it.
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