There’s little that’s cut and dried about the Iraq war, and current attempts to explain and attribute blame for its follies – Paul Greengrass’ movie Green Zone for example – often choose to overlook the stickier parts of the mess. George Packer’s Betrayed avoids straightforward Bush bashing, and instead provides a decent overview of Iraqi factional violence and diminishing optimism, and the lame efforts of idealistic coalition bureaucrats to deal with these problems.
The play, here getting its UK premiere, is adapted from Packer’s 2007 New Yorker article of the same name. Its characters are mostly drawn from real life. Arran Shandi and Waleed Akhtar are convincing as Adnan and Laith, educated Iraqis working as coalition interpreters, putting up with death threats to do jobs that they believe in.
However, when they need security the most the Americans let them down. The Yanks are definitely the bad guys here. From the cold and creepy Ambassador (Benny Young), down to the predictably shouty Regional Security Officer (Adam McNamara), their rhetoric is an alternating series of polite brush-offs and nasty threats. Yet, this is all Paul Greengrass territory, and it doesn’t sit so comfortably in a play that is, for the most part, about the emotional impact of betrayal. Shandi and Akhtar are sensitive to their characters’ feelings of crushed hope, and the play really thrives in the scenes where their awareness of Iraq’s implosion into civil war is contrasted against blind American cheerleading. Overall an interesting, though still contrived, narrative of war.
The Tron, Glasgow, until Fri 14 May