We are at a tribunal for war crimes. We are told that the regular lawyers - those who have prepared today’s statements - have been called away at the last minute and that standby lawyers will be reading instead. This premise of the play goes hand in hand with how it is produced: every day a new set of four actors comes in to give a blind reading of the script.
A very engaging work, with frank portrayals of the gruesome realities of war.
At the centre of the play is “Judith K,” descendant of a royal lineage of her tribe. We are told that she married an African warlord when she was a young woman and, when he got killed in a car explosion, she stepped up to take on the mantle as the military leader of her people.
This is an absolutely riveting thriller, narrated through a series of testimonies of various characters as well as through transcripts of Judith’s interviews with a psychologist. We slowly find out about the events that led to Judith’s ascent to power and how she came to carry out the resistance against UN troops - those she considers the “occupants” of her country.
Judith’s role as a leader is made complex by various elements of her tribal history and culture. The fact that she is a descendant of several generations of kings is extremely prized by her family, and the fact that she is a woman complicates her credibility as leader in a country that is deeply patriarchal. Her background is further complicated by the fact that she was educated in the West - with a degree from Yale and a PhD from Cambridge - and until her husband’s death, she pursued her passion as a pharmacological scientist.
While the play raises various interesting questions, it doesn’t quite manage to delve into them deeply enough. The schism between Judith’s original tribal background and her pursuit of the sciences in the West is barely explored; we are left wondering why a successful scientist has gone back to her country ridden with turmoil in order to be a military leader. Is it an empathy and love for her people, or a sense of duty and responsibility? Furthermore, several questions of gender politics are raised, regarding Judith’s suitability as a leader and her ambiguous relationship with her maid - but only superficially so. Perhaps an hour-long play does not provide enough space to explore these issues fully, but I feel that more could have come out of the intriguing relationship between Judith and her usurping maid, as well as from the love story between Judith and the UN army general.
The play showcases some expert storytelling, and the use of rotating sets of new actors goes very well with the framework of the play as taking place at a tribunal. Overall, this is a very engaging work, with frank portrayals of the gruesome realities of war.