People are often quick to brand any left wing views as conspiracy theory, yet perhaps on examination, the greatest, and most provable conspiracy of all is history itself. The ironies of historical process are brought back with force in Peter Arnott’s rewritten version of his piece for Mull Theatre from 2005. In a world where the very people Britain and the USA trained and armed in the 70s have run amok across the Middle East and Southern Asia, interrupting a greedy Western rush for natural resources, his script never misses a cruel consequence of four decades of meddling and rapaciousness.
Yet Arnott’s naturalist narrative takes place a long way from this world, on a small Scottish island, in a country house redolent of a much older style of theatre than Arnott’s contemporary political theme. Here we meet Brian (Kern Falconer) a semi-retired Whitehall intelligence mandarin who’s brought home Mike (Mark McDonnell), a violent former foot soldier of the spook world, after a far from random meeting in London. Brian finds his thirtysomething daughter Alison (Mary Wells) awaiting him. There follows a complex story rooted in Britain’s intelligence past, with implications for the present from the Gulf to Afghanistan and beyond, involving such seedy, post Le Carré subjects as privatised intelligence services.
If Arnott succumbs a little to writer/director syndrome in allowing his story to extend 20 minutes beyond its natural time, and if the action is occasionally more televisual than it needs to be, there is plenty to chew on in a crisp, often witty and very contemporised script. Ultimately, interest is fuelled by the play’s character study of three isolated, interiorised and psychopathic characters, for amidst the politics, there’s plenty for actors to develop in these figures. And the cast, all three, are strong in pursuing this. Falconer’s meticulous, enigmatic and ultimately barbaric civil servant, who empowers himself with deflected questions and silences is splendid, while McDonnell’s semi-hysterical, calculating military man is endlessly watchable. This is a night of theatre which never lets you off the hook, politically or emotionally. (Steve Cramer)