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The Royal Court Theatre and Drum Theatre Plymouth present
By D C Moore
31 March - 8 May 2010
Jerwood Theatre Upstairs
“Patch you up, all nice like, splint, bandage your leg. All very civilized actually. But then. Then. We hand you over.”
Helmand in the height of summer. Gary, a British soldier, and Hafizullah, his Afghan colleague, guard an injured young prisoner, Zia, found in the heat of battle. Gary wants answers, Hafizullah just wants to make it through the day and Zia thinks there has been a big mistake.
DC Moore’s second play dissects the politics of occupation, home and abroad. His first play Alaska opened at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs in 2007. He won the inaugural Tom Erhardt Award for promising new playwrights in 2008.
Age guidance 14+, running time 1hr 25mins approx.
The Empire also ran at Theatre Local in Elephant and Castle before embarking on a UK tour.
Select a Date
Dates in March
|Wed 31 Mar 2010||12:00am||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
Dates in May
|Sat 8 May 2010||12:00am||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
Sold out Performances
- All performances are now sold out.
4 stars The Independent, By Paul Taylor, April 20th 2010
We’re in Helmand Province in the blistering heat of summer and three men take shelter in a room in a wrecked compound (the superb set is by Bob Bailey; the hazily filtered glare comes courtesy of Jason Taylor’s excellent lighting). Gary, a lance corporal from Tottenham, veers between seething anger and low-key sarcasm, an oscillation superbly conveyed by excellent Joe Armstrong. The almost elfin Afghan Hafizullah (Josef Altin) is contrastingly still and spaced-out on his hash-and-opium roll-up. A good mate of Gary’s has just been mortally wounded in an ambush, so things are looking bad for the Punjabi guy they have picked up, unconscious and badly wounded, whom they suspect of being the Taliban operative responsible for the carnage.
Premiered in a pitch-perfect production by Mike Bradwell, D C Moore’s second play, The Empire, is a brilliantly acute and witty examination of the conflicts of race, class, nationality, and fundamental values thrown up by a morally questionable occupation. The unconscious body, after having been urinated on, comes round to reveal himself as a fellow Londoner, Zia (Nav Sidhu) who lives near Gary. He claims that he’d been on holiday with an uncle in Lahore when he found himself morally blackmailed into accompanying an associate of his uncle to Afghanistan. This explanation is delivered in dialogue that is wonderfully alert to the weirdness of a situation whereby two London lads find themselves on different sides of a potentially murderous divide in a hell-hole in Helmand.
The fourth character is a posh commissioned officer called Simon (beautifully played by Rufus Wright) who, in a reversal of the usual prejudice, turns out to be the most humane of the lot of them. 4 stars The Times, By Maxie Szalwinska, April 18th 2010
So effective is Mike Bradwells production in conjuring the swooning heat of the Afghan desert, you may want to pack shades and a fly swatter. As the tension mounts throughout DC Moores play, a British corporals sweat patches make ever greater incursions into the territory of his T-shirt. The drama takes place in a bombed-out house in Helmand circa 2006, where Gary (Joe Armstrong) is perspiring while guarding a captured Taliban fighter (Nav Sidhu). When the prisoner wakes, to Garys disbelief he claims hes an east London lad on a holiday gone wrong, a yarn so improbable, it might just be true. The Empire ranges over the confused legacy of British imperialism. If Moore doesnt explore this terrain as thoroughly as he might, he writes with verve. The director and cast bring out the scripts rakish humour and smouldering bitterness. There are tightly coiled turns from Armstrong and Sidhu, and Josef Altin gives a sobering performance as a brooding, grief-stricken Afghan soldier. 4 stars Music OMH, By Natasha Tripney
“Thick cunts, led by posh cunts, hitting brown cunts. Way it is. Even Now.” The conflict might be new but the old rules still apply, according to DC Moores second full length play at the Royal Court.
Set in a dusty, bullet-scarred corner of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, The Empire is taut as a high-wire.
Gary, an easy going British soldier, is faced with a complex dilemma. Following an ambush with an RPG that’s left one of their number facing death, he is tasked with looking after an injured prisoner presumed to be a Terry, army slang for Taliban until the army medic can attend to him.
Yet when the prisoner wakes up, he starts speaking in a broad London accent. He says his name is Zia, and hes English; he claims to have been visiting relatives in Pakistan when he was kidnapped.
Zias a talker; a constant stream of words spill from him, and though his story sounds implausible, the more he spins it out, the harder it is for Gary to know what to believe. What he does know is that if they hand Zia over to the Afghan army, the ANA, its doubtful hell last long. If hes innocent, as he claims to be, they would be condemning him to an awful fate, and yet he may well be responsible for the earlier attack.
Mike Bradwells production is an exercise in tension. He takes an already heightened situation and ratchets things up to unbearable levels. Garys commanding officer, Captain Mannock, is sympathetic but theres a clear division between the two British men. The Captain is a well-spoken Sandhurst type, whom Gary snittily refers to as Rupert; in some ways Gary has more in common with Zia, who hails from Wanstead Park. As the tension builds between all three men, Hafizullah, a young, placid ANA soldier (whom Gary constantly calls Paddy the labeling of people being a recurring theme) sits to the side and watches, smoking a series of tiny, potent joints in an effort to blot out the awful things he has experienced and is continuing to experience.
As Gary, Joe Armstrong shows – as he did in Dennis Kellys Orphans – that he can do expletive-flecked inarticulacy. He really gets to grips with Moores hesitant, jerky dialogue, full of sentences that taper off with a resigned “fuck” and a tired shrug. He makes the rhythms of the writing work for him in a way the other performers dont quite manage. Josef Altin is also completely believable as young Hafizullah, detached and weary, longing for sleep and peace. Nav Sidhu has the hardest role to pull off as the verbose Zia, his story constantly circling, his voice veering from whiny to defiant.
Though the class conflict that filters through the play is sometimes made too explicit, threatening to blunt the blade of the writing, what Moore does particularly effectively is to highlight how one of the principal agonies of war is in the constant waiting, the uncertainty.
Bradwells production makes superb use of the space at the Royal Courts intimate Upstairs theatre. Bob Baileys set, scorched, bleak and rubble-strewn, makes the space feel even tighter, effectively draws the eye in on these heat-numbed and increasingly desperate men.4 stars Time Out, By Sam Marlowe, April 14th 2010
Gary, a British soldier in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, comes from a military family. He’s working in training and liaison with the Afghan National Army, he’s learning to speak the local language, Dari, and doing his best to be even-handed. But with daily life back in the UK and in this blistering, bewildering foreign land riven by race, class and religion, he sums up Britain’s history of foreign occupation in the baldest and bitterest of terms: ‘Thick cunts, led by posh cunts, hitting brown cunts. Way it is. Even now.’
DC Moore’s new play is a gripping examination of division that connects the imperial past with the present, and traces the parallels between British social atomisation and borders and battle lines overseas. When the Taliban prisoner whom Gary and dope-smoking, traumatised Afghan Hafizullah are guarding regains consciousness, he unexpectedly addresses them in London street slang. How did he get there, and who will determine what will become of him – Gary’s upper-crust captain, or the Afghan soldiers who will exact bloody revenge without concern for protocol?
The dialogue glitters with savage wit and Mike Bradwell’s production is acted with riveting detail and authenticity, in particular by Joe Armstrong as Gary. A brilliant depiction of twenty-first-century tribalism, at home and abroad. 4 stars Whats On Stage, By Michael Coveney, April 12th 2010
It may be hard luck on DC Moore that his Afghanistan play The Empire seems part of an almost exhausted genre after similar scenarios by Roy Williams and Simon Stephens, not to mention the Tricycle epic of short pieces by David Edgar, David Greig and the rest.
But there is a hypnotic, elliptical quality to Mike Bradwells outstanding Upstairs production which dumps us inside an abandoned compound designer Bob Baileys walls are blasted with holes, the ceiling open to the sky, the floor caked in rubble and leaves us to sweat it out with the soldiers.
So intense is the heat, so powerful the sense of being part of a dangerous lull in the action in this part of the Helmand Province, that the audience sustained a casualty at the performance I attended, a middle-aged lady staggering to the end of a row and out to the stairs for revivifying treatment.
After a skirmish which has left one British soldier with his face blown off outside, lance corporal Gary (Joe Armstrong, uncannily resembling a taller version of his own father, the great Alun) and his taciturn Afghan sidekick, Hafizullah (Josef Altin), also known as Paddy, drag in a body bag with a Taliban prisoner Zia (Nav Sidhu).
Another Afghan soldier (Imran Khan) calls by unhelpfully to urinate on the captive, who has come round and claimed to be a Brit himself from Newham who was kidnapped by the Taliban on a business expedition with his uncle from Lahore in Pakistan. The commanding officer Simon (Rufus Wright, a dead ringer for Prince William) is awaiting the arrival of a Chinook to clear the area.
Our so-called war on terror is turned inside out as a reversible cloak disguising a can of class and racist worms that have wriggled away for generations. Gary jumps sadistically on Zias leg. Simon confirms his posh status. Zia spills a torrent of abuse in all directions: how could he not be angry living with you people? What is so great about imposing our version of law and order when democracy sets such a bad example?
Piggy-in-the-middle Hafizullah keeps mum. This slice of life realism ends up leaving some awkward questions unanswered and, with a down-beat non-flourish, the action expires in a cloud of dust and helicopter noise.4 stars Financial Times, By Sarah Hemming, April 11th 2010
The title of D.C. Moores new play suggests something grandiose: epic drama on the politics of occupation. But in fact the piece is as tightly screwed as a bayonet: it focuses on a few men sweating it out in real time and never budges from one dusty ruined building in Helmand Province.
It is that focus that gives the play its power. In the detail of the mens dilemma Moore suggests the panicky disorientation of war, touches on the complexity of the conflict in Afghanistan (the play is set in 2006) and gives you a sweaty-palmed inkling of what it might be like to improvise a right course of action in a desert war zone. His play is edgy, surprisingly funny and unbearably tense.
The setting helps. In the confined Royal Court Upstairs, the audience can taste the dust off Bob Baileys set. A merciless sun streams in through the space where the door ought to be. Here Gary, a British soldier, and Hafizullah, an Afghan soldier, deposit a wounded prisoner, who they take to be a Taliban insurgent. From the outset, bizarre contradictions perplex them: they must wait for the British medical officer to tend to the prisoner, then hand him over to the Afghan soldiers who will probably beat him to death. But the situation takes on a whole new complexity when the prisoner wakes and claims to be a British holidaymaker, kidnapped by the Taliban.
Is he telling the truth? If so, and they hand him over, they could condemn an innocent man to a horrible death. If not, and they untie him, they could condemn themselves to the same fate. The emotional terrain, like the physical terrain, is uncertain: every step could set off an improvised explosive device. As the men inch forward, a dangerous rift opens up between Gary and his commanding officer. Meanwhile Hafizullah, withdrawn and permanently stoned, just wants no more violence.
The performances are excellent, particularly from Joe Armstrong as Gary and Josef Altin as Hafizullah. Mike Bradwells tight direction lets the humour bubble through but keeps notching up the tension. The play fares less well when it does embark on bigger debates, on power structures, occupation and the impact of recent conflicts on young British Muslims. It becomes a bit clumsy and heavy-handed. Moores strength is his skilful use of live drama to transport you to a sweltering, dusty room and an impossible dilemma.
4 stars The Guardian, By Lyn Gardner, April 11th 2010
In DC Moore’s play, a bullet-scarred hovel in Helmand province is a corner of the world that is forever England. Outside, commanding officer Simon is waiting for the Chinook helicopter, whose arrival is a matter of life and death for Corporal Phipps, wounded in a Taliban attack. Inside, Phipps’s best mate, Gary, and a young Afghan named Hafizullah (Gary has christened him Paddy) are watching over a prisoner.
Unlike his Afghan army colleagues who are eager to take revenge on the prisoner for the loss of their comrades, Hafizullah just wants to sleep, blotting out the memory of what the Taliban did to his family. As time passes and the Chinook doesn’t arrive, the prisoner’s identity becomes a subject of scrutiny, and the unspoken rules begin to break down.
At first sight, Moore’s play is a variation on the stuck-in-a-lift scenario played out in real time with an Afghan setting. There’s lots of tension and loads of very funny banter, and it even bears a superficial similarity to Willis Hall’s Malayan jungle drama, The Long and the Short and the Tall. But despite a tendency towards final big speeches, there is an impressive subtlety in the way Moore shapes events and uses language (his characters are often brilliantly inarticulate and revealing as they lie, control and posture) to explore the legacies of colonialism, class, hierarchy, privilege and racism that create their own prisons.
Is post-empire England all that different from the one that turned the globe pink? Not according to Gary, whose father and grandfather served in the army in Aden and India. “Thick cunts, led by posh cunts, hitting brown cunts. Way it is. Even now.”
Mike Bradwell’s canny production doesn’t rush, but is never slack, and there are terrific performances all round in an evening that buzzes with heat, flies, anger and genuine promise.