Called to Account at the Tricycle is slightly different to the other verbatim tribunal plays previously staged at that theatre. All the others really happened (the Saville, Hutton and Lawrence Inquiry plays come to mind, all pieces of fascinating theatre), but here Richard Norton Taylor (editor of the previous plays) has arranged his own set of interviews with selected witnesses, to investigate whether Tony Blair should be charged with the crime of aggression towards Iraq. It is an engaging enough evening for those willing to follow the questioning and look at the issues, but to the more casual observer it might be a little on the dry and certainly worthy side (whereas I thought the Saville, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, was gripping throughout).
Norton-Taylor has made a mistake in the form of this play I feel. He only asks whether the Prime Minister was in the strict sense of international law justified in going to war, which can be argued legally from both points of view. What is much more interesting is the moral point of view, especially now that the PM is about to leave office (though some would argue it the other way, but then you have to decide whether the war itself, or simply Mr Blair’s legal position is more important). If the inquiry had been a more general examination of the case for and against the war we could have had a much more interesting and balanced evening. As it is, the play is weighted against Tony Blair and little credence is given to the possibility that the war was morally right, regardless of WMDs, but because of the evil brutality of Saddam’s regime (a position boosted by the fact that the US had previously supported Saddam in the 1980’s and had some responsibility for events after that, including not removing him after the First Gulf War). There is no doubt that the aftermath of the Iraq has been terribly mishandled, from abolishing the police and civil service apparatus to the slow transition to home grown government, but public outrage at the current situation (and remember those dying now are being killed by their own countrymen and terrorists from neighbouring countries, not British or US forces), dose not automatically make the invasion and removal of Saddam wrong.
The staging is sober and static, the only way possible in this kind of play. Nicholas Kent, Tricycle boss, once again directs proceedings, his company of actors (mostly) giving solemn voice to the role call of witnesses to the mock tribunal. I would really have liked to hear rigorous moral and political debate on the stage of the Tricycle, but I had to make do with the audience booing a picture of Tony Blair at the conclusion of the play. I left feeling that our own Prime Minister is more hated in Kilburn that the now dead Iraqi Dictator.