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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Theatre - Blood and Gifts - National Theatre

Star rating – 5/10

JT Rogers’ play at the National is set in Russian occupied Afghanistan of 1981. It is billed as a complex political thriller, but to be brutally honest I found it neither complex nor in the least bit thrilling. The main character in the play is CIA agent Jim Warnock, played well with the material that he had by Lloyd Owen. The play attempts to explore the role of the Americans in the conflict, and how they courted the local rebels to defeat the Soviets, only to drive them into the hands of more extreme jihadists, with the tragic consequences which we are all too familiar with.

The problem for me was not the complexity of the plot, but the way in which the play tries to mix politics and humour and succeeds in doing neither very well. The Afghan rebels are shown in a mocking way as being obsessed with Western songs like ‘Hotel California’ and the hits of Duran Duran and Olivia Newton John. This just serves to undermine what is essentially a serious message, and feels oddly out of place.

The play does not really engage the audience with any of the characters, and so I didn’t care much about their fate. Some of the personal details behind the hard man facades are revealed, such as when Jim’s baby daughter dies, but we are never really given more than a glimpse into their inner feelings, let alone an actual sight of their wives and families.

On the positive side the set is very good – atmospheric and dramatic. It is just a shame that the action doesn’t live up to its surroundings.

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