Review of Desert
by Lindi Carter
DESERT IS RIVETING
Desert is riveting! Only 55 minutes from start to finish, the play explores the intensity of the passions involved in this iconic and historic event (which, in real time, isn’t over yet, and in ‘Desert’ is ‘to be continued…’).
It does this through the linking together of Bradley and somebody who, like many of us, has been seized by the story of the 22 year old US army intelligence analyst accused of leaking the massive cache of documents contained in the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs, the Guantanamo Files, the State Dept Documents and the infamous ‘Collateral Murder’ video, transferring the data whilst ‘lip-synching to Lady Gaga’ on his computer in the forward operating base in Iraq.
It is, of course, the stuff of ‘myth’ in the real and original sense of the word and it has all the elements of a right good yarn, but, as in all our myths, in ‘Desert’ our own longings are drawn into possibilities and outcomes, hopes and desires, and the touch and go struggle to believe that we can make a difference and impact the faceless horrors that, often enough, seem so insuperable, even in their pervasive anonymity, that we learn to embrace the apathy of ‘living with them’.
It is to the great credit of the two actors – Giles Roberts and Rebecca Tanwen – that this works so well -, we cease to be an ‘audience’ and throw our lot in with them as they battle it out; and they go for it heart and soul, as is only right.
You would, however, be wrong if you concluded from this that the play is grim; on the contrary, it is full of bright and beautiful moments of endearing humour, and one of the things I liked so much about it was the fact that the relationship developed between them demonstrated love in a way which, because of the narrative we know, wasn’t deflected by thoughts of a ‘romantic’ or flirty dalliance (Morgan is a young woman, perhaps still in her teens).
Sober and touchingly affectionate, it reminded me of that bit in the chat logs where Bradley says:
i cant separate myself from others…..i feel connected to everybody… like they were distant family….i… care?.
With Bradley in Quantico and Morgan on her computer, somehow quite naturally, perhaps resonating with cyber space, they move in and out of a visiting time conversation exploring the meaning of what has happened.
They are transported to the computer room in the desert in Iraq where several events are revisited, and we watch the shooting part of ‘Collateral Murder’ enlarged to cinema scope on the white wall behind the actors.
A number of other characters make brief appearances – Morgan’s soldier brother home from Iraq on leave, Bradley’s female superior at FOB Hammer, and later, in the future, a computer repair man fixing Morgan’s faulty keyboard in her new ‘policy development’ official’s office.
Seeing the actors move in and out of these other roles without leaving the set is a brilliant dramatic device which somehow changes the atmosphere in a more transitional and less distracting way than bringing on new cast members; it stops the focus from becoming diffused; and seeing them ‘mutate’ is a powerful statement about identity and our common humanity, as indeed is the whole piece, which succeeds in challenging us to face our own responsibilities without ever resorting to threat.
Possibilities open and hope beckons – the future could hold promise even when we have slipped back into compromise and/or despair.
Desert is great and it made me cry real tears – go/come and see it! But if you can’t catch it now, watch out for it in 2013, when it goes on tour and the MolinoGroup aim to develop the story further, even as Bradley’s case and story unfolds on the ground.
If they manage to maintain the quality of this preliminary piece in their development, I anticipate that the MolinoGroup will go on making their own seriously important contribution to the ‘debate’ Bradley calls us to.
Read another review of the play here. Please note, however, that the September date mentioned for Bradley Manning’s trial is out of date – the earliest it will take place is November and it may well not start until 2013.