Jonathon Crewe’s Toy Soldier opens with the image of a man tied up, held captive, as the sound of Bashir Handi’s torturing by Donna Britten (Bianca Beckles-Rose) echoes through the studio of the Brockley Jack Theatre. The scene is set. Handi, an Iraqi civilian, has been tortured and murdered, and Britten is facing a court sentencing to bring justice to her crime. Through a series of dialogues, sound clips and revelations, the play displays the battle between a passion for war and love and raises the question of whether an individual is truly to blame for following orders.
Crewe’s production is, at times, clumsy. Scenes transition with clunky backgrounds and an often awkwardness of moving on and off stage. Information is often revealed explicitly; the playwright knows we need certain details of the case, which leads the writing to have an unnatural quality to parts of it. Beckles-Rose’s performance completely masks this. There’s a spontaneity to her expression – the tremor of a hand, a twitch of a foot – an internal conflict on her face and a genuine presence in the moment. Yet the writing’s struggle to progress anywhere ultimately leads to this character becoming slightly wearisome.
Philippa Beach (Louisa Smith) is a watery lawyer. Lacking much flavour in her defence, there is a grasp of the text, but a character that is essentially quite uninteresting. She’s opposed by prosecutor Soames (Stanley Eldridge), with dialogues that attempt to expose a supposed tension between the two Oxford graduates.
The ethics of the story do, however, remain engaging. A conclusion that seems unfair and unjust highlights a corruption in the legal system, whereby a person is blamed for their crimes, even if they are themselves a victim of the hierarchy of power, whereby the one who shoots has no say on whether or not they will pull the trigger. On the other hand, this is just another cliché of a woman who makes a decision because of her love for a man.
Crewe attempts to make the audience feel immersed in the court proceedings, and at one point we are blinded by a burst of white light to experience, for a moment, the torturing of Handi. Yet, contrastingly, it is not us who makes the noise of the court’s audience’s uproar, but a sound effect.
This makes our position uncertain, and we are, as a result, never quite sure of our placing.
Review by Joseph Winer
by Jonathon Crewe
produced by Who Said Theatre
A servicewoman is on trial in a UK courtroom accused of war crimes: the torture and murder of an Iraqi civilian in a military detention centre. As secrets about her childhood, her reason for joining the army and the affair that drove her to the very edges of her duty are revealed, the opposing lawyers build their cases around her.
But in a case where the system is on trial as much as the accused, will justice prevail or will the outcome be as obscured as the reasons for the war in the first place?
I was just doing the job I was sent there for
Jonathon Crewe is an award-nominated playwright and filmmaker whose work has been exhibited and performed across Europe and the United States. His first feature film is due for release in 2017. Toy Soldier was first broadcast as a radio play on Resonance FM in 2014.
The Brockley Jack Theatre
410 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2DH