Palace of the End – review

Powered by article titled “Palace of the End – review” was written by Michael Billington, for The Guardian on Tuesday 2nd November 2010 23.29 UTC

I am wary of monologues: they deny the possibility of discussion and debate. But this triptych of personal stories about Iraq by the Canadian Judith Thompson is exceptional – partly because it displays a remarkable empathy, and partly because it creates its own internal tension by juxtaposing the cruelty of Saddam Hussein’s regime with the torture and indiscriminate killing, confirmed by the latest WikiLeaks documents, perpetrated by the occupying forces.

What is shocking about the first story, based on the experiences of Lynndie England (court-martialled for her treatment of Iraqi captives in Abu Ghraib), is the character’s self-certainty. Convincingly played by Jade Williams, she sees herself not as a miscreant but as a martyr to the liberal establishment, and robustly compares herself to Joan of Arc. Conversely, what is striking about the story of Dr David Kelly, the government scientist who killed himself on Harrowdown Hill in 2003, is his mixture of guilt and anger. In Robin Soans’s blistering performance, I felt I learned something new: that Dr Kelly’s outrage at the lies told about weapons of mass destruction was matched only by his self-loathing for his complicity in the deception.

For the third story, Thompson creates a fictional character who embodies the sufferings of Saddam’s subjects. A former high-school teacher, played with impeccable poise by Imogen Smith, graphically describes the torture of herself and her children by the secret police. But rather than simply celebrating resistance to evil, the piece is movingly imbued with the guilt of the parental survivor.

Directed with spareness and clarity by Jessica Swale, these stories may not change anyone’s mind about Iraq. What they do is jolt our sleeping consciences and use individual stories to explore the wider tragedy. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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