Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Review of The Collector at the Arcola Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Review of The Collector at the Arcola Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Review of The Collector at the Arcola Theatre
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18 Nov REVIEW: The Collector at the Arcola Theatre

The Iraq war was an incredibly visible conflict. It was a war in which we could Skype loved ones on the front line, or YouTube footage of incidents just moments after they occurred. We had news cameras everywhere, offering viewers on comfortable sofas an access-all-areas pass to military camps. We even sent celebrities in to shoot documentaries. Whatever your political, philosophical or moral views on the merits – or otherwise – of this kind of coverage, it’s a conflict so fresh in our consciousness, the blood barely dry and the troops scarcely home, that it’s easy to forget quite how much of it we will never see. And even if our eyes see it, will it ever truly connect?

On the face of it, of course we know there was abuse of prisoners in Abu Graib. There are pictures and videos to prove it. We know that prisoners died during interrogation, that humiliating photographs were taken, and that prisoners were set upon by military dogs, to name just a fraction of the allegations. But The Collector brings us this distressingly familiar story from a more personal perspective. The play follows the experiences of Nassir, a local Iraqi man working as a translator for US interrogators in the fictional Magrat Gaol (which bears a striking resemblance to Abu Graib). Condemned by large sections of his existing community for fraternising with the enemy, and having witnessed extensive prison guard brutality, Nassir holds a delicate position. Conscious of his inclusion on a terrorist death list outside the compound, he opts to remain inside, an innocent man voluntarily imprisoned in cell C27 but fast becoming, “just another Iraqi prisoner,” to the guards. But with his fiancée at risk outside the compound, and the atrocities he’s witnessed imprinted on his mind, things can never return to “normal” for Nassir…

The three-actor format allows the story of Nassir to be told from three different perspectives: his fiancée Zoya (Ritu Arya), the man responsible for the prison, Captain Kasprowicz (William Reay) and the principled interrogator that worked closely with Nassir, Foster (Lesley Harcourt). Three very different stories, from three very different perspectives and belief systems, all converging on the same events, the Collector tells an uncomfortable story with impact and eloquence. Uncomplicated in costume, staging, lighting and design, the intensity of the story burns through, as it questions the capacity – even desire? – or humans to inflict suffering on one another, the very premise of war, and the relentless cycle of violence in the Middle East.

A play in one, one hour act, it has a striking ability to create a deafening silence in the theatre. A remarkable degree of attention turns towards the actors, achieving a level of silence and stillness unusual to any auditorium, but that’s testament to the all-encompassing thought that the production demands, with its intelligent structure, just the right amount of acting, and subject matter that screams out to be listened to. An important exploration of love, hatred, morality and freedom, it takes a sensitive approach, without sensationalising or underplaying, and with gentle reminders that even in the darkest of places there are always glimmers of light.

It’s unclear whether Nassir was a real man, and whether this is a true story. But it’s agonisingly clear that it very well could be. The troops may have come home, and the field camps might have been packed up, but conflict in Iraq isn’t over. In the words of Nassir, “when all of this is over, you can walk away. You can go home. Well guess what? My home doesn’t exist.”

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Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here