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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Drumhead, theatre review

Published in the Scotsman


WHEN people do bad things it is often language that pays the first price. Cruelty sounds more palatable when dressed up in a fancy phrase. That's why the character played by Frodo McDaniel in this bleak drama tells us he is not involved in torture but "enhanced interrogation".

The enhancement, as we see for ourselves in Rhymes With Purple's site-specific production, includes such techniques as water-boarding, sensory deprivation and the playing of excessively loud music. But McDaniel, embodying the banality of evil, treats them all with the disinterested calm of a professional. He could be a warden doling out parking tickets for all the concern and compassion he shows.

Meanwhile the victim, played by Ben Allison, who alternates roles nightly with McDaniel, pulsates in bewildered agony as he tries to figure out what the question is, let alone how to answer it.

To witness this unpleasant scenario, we have been bussed to a warehouse and guided to the kind of bleakly anonymous room where terrorists imprison Jack Bauer. There is none of the glossy entertainment value of 24 in Drumhead, however. Written by the actors, it is a study in discomfort and calculated fear that tries our patience almost as much as it inflicts legally sanctioned pain on the prisoner. There are times when the banality of evil is banal to watch.

The strength of the play, staged as part of the Tron's Mayfesto season of political drama, lies in its exposure of a Guantanamo-era society that sanctions interrogation methods akin to medieval witch-hunting. Its weakness, despite the realistic setting, is it is not real enough. To raise our indignation, we have to know whether we are watching fact or fiction, and here the line is blurred. Of course torture is a bad thing, but at whom are we pointing the finger?

© Mark Fisher 2010

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