Critically acclaimed playwright, Henry Naylor, is back at Gilded Balloon with another timely piece of theatre that packs a punch.
An intense and ever twisting show about national pride and identity that never lets its audiences’ moral compass settle.
This year, Naylor grapples with the case of missing schoolgirl, Shamima Begum, her possible return and the revenge that one journalist wants to reap on ISIS soldiers and those in the West who have forgotten the war in Syria and the murder of her friend.
In the opening scene, Carter, a journalist at a Daily Mail type paper, is frustrated that she hasn’t got the big story and is pressurised by her berating editor, who asks ‘why can’t any of you guys find a runaway Jihadi bride?’. In her quest to impress her editor with a piece of clickbait, she hunts down two veterans, searching for inflammatory quotes about Begum, ‘Dear Shamima, Fuck Off’ is to be her story’s line.
It soon becomes clear, however, that Carter is motivated by more than clicks. Her backstory as a pupil and friend of the journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by ISIS while reporting in Syria in 2014, inspires her professional aspirations to report the truth and sways her judgement. She is fiercely loyal to Western values, to the extent at which she seems Islamaphobic in her defence of Britain.
Carter’s Islamophobia is motivated by her loss, but her determination to tell one story before she has understood the whole truth makes for an intense and ever twisting show, that never lets its audiences’ moral compass settle. Caitlin Thornburn’s Carter commands attention as she guides us through a play that moves between her own story as a gutsy investigator, James Foley’s life as a reporter, and the details of war crimes committed by a British veteran of the Iraq war. The relevant subject matter and hard to stomach details of the war in the Middle East captivate a full theatre.
Thornburn shares the stage with Naylor himself, who plays a veteran that Carter pushes for quotes. Naylor has an intimidating presence as the audience enters, but his overacting and unbelievable characterisation stands out against Thornburn's smooth Carter.
When Carter discovers a series of incriminating photographs of the soldier with Iraqi prisoners, the shocking crimes committed by the British soldier makes the audience shudder. An undeveloped plotline about a murdered girlfriend lacks clarity and the recurring magical realism image of deadly desert spiders fails to pack the same punch as the very real description of tortured prisoners.
Nonetheless, Naylor’s interesting take on recent news stories from the Middle East is a welcome addition to his Arabian Nightmare’s series. The questions of national pride, historical trauma and past wrongdoings that Naylor succinctly explores in The Nights are more relevant than ever.