The Tricycle continues its tradition of highly charged political plays with Called To Account: The Indictment Of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair For The Crime Of Aggression Against Iraq – A Hearing. Evidence has been gathered for the prosecution and the defence, and the audience members are invited to make up their own minds about the possible guilt of the Prime Minister. Jo Fletcher-Cross was in the first night audience to hear the case…
Controversial theatre is the lifeblood of North London venue the Tricycle. In past years it has produced tribunal plays about th
e Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the Hutton Inquiry, Nuremburg, the Arms to Iraq Inquiry, war crimes in Srebrenica and Bloody Sunday. Called To Account asks the question: did Tony Blair commit a crime of aggression by taking the country to war with Iraq?
Impressive evidence has been gathered for this fascinating play. Nicolas Kent, Artistic Director of the Tricycle, who directs Called To Account and has directed all the tribunal plays, has persuaded a selection of high-profile witnesses to give evidence in the staged trial. A total of 15 witnesses were interviewed in total, with a further eight being approached but declining to take part. Writer Richard Norton-Taylor edited all the evidence gained in these interviews into a dramatised court case.
The set is simple – an anonymous and brightly lit room with a large desk. On one side sit Julian Knowles (David Michaels) and Blinne Ni Ghralaigh (Charlotte Lucas), the lawyers representing the defence – Tony Blair. On the opposite side are the lawyers for the prosecution; Philippe Sands, QC (Thomas Wheatley) and Alison Macdonald (Morven Macbeth). Each witness is brought on, tells the legal team who they are and what their professional background is, and is then quizzed by the lawyers; a deceptively simple process that brings some very interesting evidence to light.
Each witness is asked to examine written evidence, and as they do we also see the documents being referred to projected onto screens around the theatre. Difficult questions are being asked, but almost everyone involved in the creation of this play seems to have been determined to answer these questions fully and frankly. Clare Short, MP (Diane Fletcher) is particularly candid. Does she believe Tony Blair lied to his cabinet, to the country, to himself? There is no coy avoidance of the question – yes, she does.
Particularly interesting is the evidence of the first witness, Dr Shirwan Al-Mufti (Raad Rawi) who is extraordinarily matter of fact about the atrocities committed in his home country, Iraq, early in the Saddam Hussein regime. His seeming confusion as to why these acts were not enough to warrant the intervention of the UK and the USA until much later is telling.
Richard Perle (Shane Rimmer), who was involved in defence in the Reagan and Bush administrations, is another fascinating witness. He openly admits that the war was not carried out well, yet sticks firmly to his belief that it was the correct thing to do.
The key question would seem to be whether Tony Blair changed the evidence to show that there were indeed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the waters are darker than that. What is repeated time and time again are doubts over the legality of taking the country to war, and how the legal issues were answered. On 7 March 2003, the attorney general says that war could only be justified if it can be proved that Iraq was not complying with the UN weapons inspectors. By 17 March, he was certain that this was true, having seemingly dispelled all his doubts in a 10-day period. Nobody can provide a satisfactory answer to this extremely fast turnaround. What is clear is that there are strong suspicions that he did not make that decision alone.
Called To Account is a thorny play, full of difficult issues. But it provokes a fascinating debate, and above all, allows the audience to examine the evidence it has gathered, and make up its own mind. Is Tony Blair guilty as charged? You will have to decide for yourself.
Called To Account runs at the Tricycle until 19 May.