When at war, do right and wrong actually exist? Toy Soldier, written and directed by Jonathon Crewe, aims to explore this idea through the controversial and emotive issue of torture, more specifically the trial of a servicewoman accused of torturing an Iraqi prisoner. As the play unfolds, so the issues become wider and wider, questioning the training given to soldiers, the resources the army receives and ultimately the taking of innocent lives and whether that can ever be justified.
The play begins in a courtroom where everything seems pretty simple – the defendant, Donna Britten (played by Bianca Beckles-Rose), is in the dock being questioned by the prosecution lawyer, Soames (Stanley Eldridge). Then comes the turn of her defence lawyer, Phillipa Beach (Louisa Smith) who tries to offer Donna opportunities to pass the buck elsewhere. But it’s what happens outside of the courtroom setting which actually moves the play forward, as the personal opinions of the lawyers are brought to the fore and the politics of the war and of the trial itself are highlighted.
Soames, an Oxford graduate may be prosecuting but he wants anything but a guilty verdict, worried about the precedent it will set and the consequences for his ‘friends’ in government, whereas Philippa Beach does not doubt her client’s guilt at all but thinks it should be the system, not the defendant, on trial. The two stand-out performances, therefore came from the two lawyers – Stanley Eldridge played the smarmy, privileged prosecution lawyer to perfection, invoking an anger in the audience at his manner and his motives whilst the quieter emotional turmoil of the naïve Philippa Beach was also displayed incredibly well by Louisa Smith.
Sound and lighting were sometimes used to good effect, particularly when simulating the sudden shock of light torture victims might experience, allowing the audience to feel a small amount of empathy for the victims. However, beyond this, both could have been used more effectively. There was no distinction in the quality of the recording of the torture and the courtroom sounds which led to some confusion the first time court room sounds were used, and lighting could have been used more appropriately during scene changes to make them less clunky and maintain the flow of the play.
The script was fast paced and raised some important issues about the Iraq war and the concept of war in general and whether the killing of people can ever be justified. It made its point well, however, being over ten years since British troops first went into Iraq it failed to raise any issues that haven’t been raised before. Its point was clear, and fault was very obviously assigned, perhaps making an issue that is grey seem totally black and white, failing to really address the complexity of the ideas.
Overall, an interesting and enjoyable play which addresses an important issue. However, despite its subject matter it didn’t really prompt me to think about anything I hadn’t already considered and I didn’t come away feeling I had gained something new.
Review by Emily Diver
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