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The Empire

Published 9 April 2010

Rubble covers the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs’s stage; Afghan rocks, concrete and plaster that have morphed from the walls and ceilings they once were by a recent battle.

Three soldiers enter the pockmarked remains of a home; one British, one a member of the allied-trained Afghan National Army, the last an unconscious Taliban fighter carried by his captors. Not one of the trio wants to be there and there is more to the injured Taliban captive than originally thought.

Three men trapped in an oppressively hot room with nowhere to go until transport arrives; this should be a powder keg of stressful, simmering tension, yet Joe Armstrong’s British NCO Gary seems fairly cold to the whole experience. He has been at war long enough to know how everything works and barely spares a heartbeat of concern for what lies in wait for the captive when he is handed over to the Afghan authorities.

ANA recruit Paddy, who is renamed from Hafizullah so that Gary can pronounce his name, is similarly non-plussed, but that is due not so much to desensitisation – the sights that he has seen inflicted by the Taliban are etched into his memory – but to the constant supply of cannabis he smokes as he sits quietly in the corner.

When the captive finally speaks, it throws a brand new complexion on proceedings, as do events outside the man-sized clay oven.

Playwright DC Moore uses the volatile situation to explore ideas about occupation and communication. While four of the five characters speak English, actually understanding each other is decidedly different to talking. Moore’s clipped, stunted sentences, often just words rather than fully formed thoughts, are realistically muddled in the confused, confounded mouths of the soldiers whose own preconceptions and notions of society are as clear to see as the sweat marks on Gary’s top.

While the origin and fate of the captive is discussed and delved into, all that is clear by the end of the play is that none of the battlefield characters will enjoy a happy ending.



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