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Under a railway arch in Waterloo a British journalist is interviewing Muammar Gaddafi about the uprising in Libya. It is of course not real but there is a sense of verisimilitude about the tete a tete with the now dead leader in London’s small Waterloo East theatre.
In Reggie Adams’s politically charged new play a washed-out foreign correspondent, played by Jonathan Hansler, grabs desperately at a chance to head into the war zone of Libya in 2011, where he might once again rediscover his lost passion and former glory.
It opens with Hansler being thrown out of his London home by his Chilean wife (Christianne Oliveira) for failing to support her and their three daughters, and for no longer being the crusading journalist she fell in love with years before.
His daughters appear via Skype on a screen. One is a hacker and another a student in the US getting excited about the Occupy movement but needing a cash injection from daddy.
Hansler, in his crumpled suit, brings dash and a weary desperation to the leading role as an old-school journalist who has lost his way in a corporate and digitally savvy world.
An assignment comes his way via Libyan neighbour Eric (Walles Hamonde) who stands ready to give Hansler the contacts he needs in Misrata to get the big story on the revolution.
The small cast acquit themselves commendably — Oliveira (better known as Grant Mitchell’s wife Carla from EastEnders) convinces as a hotel manager and as a member of Gaddafi’s famously all-female personal guard.
Likewise Hamonde flips from being Eric to his breathlessly enthusiastic cousin and then, in trademark robes, turban and shades, as the Brother Leader himself.
At this point the play delivers on its promise as we witness Gaddafi justify himself, throwing Hansler’s questions back at him by refuting the Western narrative about the uprising and the West’s arrogance in trying to impose its model of democracy on Libya.
An Interview challenges the audience to question the way the overthrow of Gaddafi and his Green revolution was reported in the western media — although this is not just a piece about the rights and wrongs of western intervention in the Arab world.
Adams says the play is not an apology for Gaddafi’s regime — pointing to a later scene in the play that shows the brutal side — but that his attempt to build a system of direct democracy was a way to explore the issue more generally.
“I wanted the audience to hear him throw the questions back to us,” he says.
“We go into these countries with a kind of moral superiority with no respect for the social structures that are already in place and try to impose a one-size-fits-all model of representative democracy. With Francis Fukuyama and the ‘end of history’ thesis, we’ve really stopped progressing our form of democracy.”
An Interview is Adams’s first play and to some extent it shows. There is little or no sound or lighting design and an over-reliance on pre-recorded performances projected onto a screen interacting, not always successfuly, with the actors on stage, as well as what looks like YouTube footage and news reports from Libya put together fairly crudely.
But it manages to rise above the amateurish staging thanks to strong performances and an intelligent script that works as a piece of political theatre, give or take some stilted chunks of dialogue.
The five acts of the play (Conspiracy, Capitalism, Democracy, Money and Execution) read like chapters from a book on alternative political economy and tell you something about Adams’s ambition to explore the big issues.
He’s the author of Now Utopia, a radical social manifesto, and says the idea of the play germinated while he was researching the book.
“I started to see how the mainstream media was a kind of political theatre, which becomes really obvious once you see the framed linguistics — to use Noam Chomsky’s term — used by politicians. World leaders start falling into a pattern of what they agree to say and, without seeing it as a conspiracy, it’s something that has to be questioned.”
Adams says the Libyan story and Gaddafi’s plans to build an alternative monetary system in Africa was also “a backdrop to explore what goes on in the banking system.
“I was trying to highlight the failures of the expansive debt-money system that do not get explored in the mainstream media.”
The writer, who was a nightclub manager in a previous life before becoming politically active, is also working on a musical set in a club on a Canvey Island and another play about Maya Angelou. Interview With Gaddafi is a brave start.
Runs at the Waterloo East theatre, Brad Street, London SE1 London until June 29. Box office (020) 7928-0060.
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