John McCallum, August 07, 2006

By Nigel Jamieson. The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, August 2. Tickets: $53. Bookings: (02) 92507777. Until September 3. Melbourne: Malthouse Theatre. Tickets: $40-47. Bookings: (03) 96855111. September 13-October 1.

THIS is an extraordinarily passionate and powerful piece of theatre, an assault on all the senses, created by Nigel Jamieson in collaboration with some very fine artists. It is about the imprisonment of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay, his treatment there and the support his father Terry and stepmother Bev have been giving him.

Because David Hicks has become such a powerful symbol -- a monster, a victim, a terrorist, a martyr, depending on who's talking -- it will anger and upset different audiences for different reasons.

In a vast steel cage, six performers, choreographed superbly by Garry Stewart, are surrounded by projected texts and video, enveloped in sound and voices, and awash with harsh, shredded light as they fly, hang or turn in the air, crashing against the bars, floor or each other and dance violently, abjectly or tenderly around this frightening, nightmarish space. Their performances are accompanied by a very strong score and sound design by Paul Charlier, and they interact with disturbing video projections by Scott Otto Anderson.
Damien Cooper's lighting design is full of darkness, harsh squares of light that pin down the prisoners, and sudden eruptions of glare, like prison lamps, that sometimes sweep out over the audience, as if interrogating them.

The projected texts include the International Declaration of Human Rights, bureaucratic documents about torture and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's list of authorised interrogation procedures.

In one extraordinary scene, performed on the rear wall, a prisoner struggles to march over one of these texts but it keeps flipping over, sending him spinning out through the space.
In the most harrowing scene, a series of projections of the Abu Ghraib torture photos at first threatens to overwhelm the dance but then the prisoners' abjection moves into the theatre space as the dancers undress and become abject and vulnerable themselves.

Presiding over all this are projections of quiet video interviews with Terry and Bev Hicks. They come across simply as concerned parents, happy for their son to be tried and punished if he has done anything wrong, but worried about the way he has been treated.
The production does not deal at all with what Hicks might have done, nor with what useful intelligence information his long incarceration and interrogation might be providing.
Nor does it concern itself, at least in an overtly didactic way, with what should be done with him now, except through what his dad says. But it is unabashedly polemical in its vivid presentation of what he has been going through.


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