What I Heard About Iraq
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 17 - Fri 18 May
On a brilliant and sunny July morning last year, I sat opposite Eliot Weinberger in a downtown café in Manhattan. A small, balding man, perhaps in his mid 50s, he spoke in that New York accent that reminds the outsider irresistibly of Woody Allen, and he looked, behind his croissant and big pint glass of iced coffee, a bit confused. ‘It really astounded me,’ he said.
He was talking of the phenomenal success of his essay What I Heard About Iraq. Originally produced in February 2005 as a piece for London Review of Books, it became the web success of the year, with a record number of hits and downloads. ‘I’d been spending a lot of time complaining about the Bush administration, and particularly the war, when my wife said, “well, you’re a writer, so write something”.’
Weinberger explained that his simple collection of verbatim quotes, juxtaposing the self-contradictions of Bushes, Cheneys and Rumsfelds with the comments of ordinary Iraqis on the ground and soldiers within the conflict, became one of the most read items on the internet.
Inevitably the piece was adapted for the stage, with Simon Levy from Californian company Fountain Theatre doing the honours. His version retains the simple feel, with actors reciting, directly, the quotations from the essay, and in so doing, building immense power. The question and answer sessions after the show often went on for hours. Levy told me about his favourite question, which was asked by an American lady at the show’s fringe success at the Pleasance in 2006: ‘You should be grateful you’re an American, from a democracy, so you have the right to ask these questions. What if you came from someplace like France?’