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Theatre Review For The Sake Of Argument, Bridewell Theatre London

Flawed but worthy attempt to unpick arguments over Iraq war

IN FOR the Sake of Argument, members of a combative debating club held in a rundown pub lay into well-worn issues.

They do so merely for the sake of winning the argument and validating their own articulacy, and in charge is Eleanor (Ashleigh Cole), a fervent believer in rational disputation and an unflinching advocate for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Her writings persuaded a young man — an unlikely recruit — to sign up for the British army to overthrow Saddam Hussein and his tragic death in an IED blast leads his grieving mother to search out the woman whose words drove him to enlist.

The unforeseen impact of eloquent words, passionately disseminated far from the heat of battle, is interesting and topical. But the unfortunate flaw in Harry Darell's self-directed play is that the characters create the theme rather than engage with it.

A drunken and antagonistic publican, a larger-than-life Irish cleaner, self-inflated Moral Maze types and the dead boy's self-destructive, dysfunctional family fill the stage and functionally contribute to an over-long production.

There is passion in the performances as the cast struggle with their inflexible characterisations and Paula Cassina's grieving mother is an effectively low-keyed depiction, in contrast to some of the other exaggerated roles.

But the play's structure is visibly on show and the inevitable conclusion is heavy-handed and trite.

Amy Watts' design, a sandpit tavern with a backdrop of strips of desert camouflage, lacks subtlety but suits the nature of the production and Georgie Farmer's monologues as the dead soldier, reveal him as an oddity rather than the boy whose death has torn a family apart.

That said, the play has its moments and the theme at its heart is of crucial importance in an age of ubiquitous opinionated and judgemental self-expression.

It needs refining but is worth catching.

Runs until February 8, box office: sbf.org.uk

 

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