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A CurtainUp London Review
Gary, a British corporal (Joe Armstrong), alongside an Afghani new recruit, Hafizullah (Josef Altin), is guarding a captured Taliban insurgent, Zia (Nav Sidhu) in these makeshift quarters in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. >Based on a true incident, Zia who speaks perfect English claims to be an innocent caught up in the battle. Gary makes it clear that their responsibility to Zia, is for the medics to patch up his leg before handing him over to the ANA (Afghan National Army) who will probably kill him. So they are waiting for the medical helicopter to arrive.
The Empire takes a surreal turn as Zia presents his explanation as to how he got there and Gary tries to pick apart his story. An officer, Simon (Rufus Wright) brings updates to Gary on his comrade Phippy who has been badly hurt in today's battle. Hafizullah incidentally spends most of the time smoking pure hashish but offers some to Zia to help with the pain in his leg.
DC Moore has created some wonderful characters here. His ear for the speech patterns of young Londoners is brilliant and overlaid is the army slang and graphic expression used by the soldier or the upper class expression of the officer— for instance, behind his back, Simon the officer is called "Rupert" by Gary, the generic name soldiers give to posh officers and Zia not understanding the insult, goes ahead and calls Simon, Rupert. Gary who says he cannot pronounce Hafizullah, dubs him Paddy.
The performances are inspiring as is Mike Bradwell's crisp, clear direction. Joe Anderson as Gary looks like the young Malcolm McDowell and has brilliant delivery and timing,. His wit drives much of the humour and he has wonderful stage presence. Nav Sidhu as Zia is sufficiently cryptic and certainly seems to be persuasive, thinking on his feet, but he also looks genuinely frightened and haunted. Josef Altin's dopehead "Paddy" displays a gentle, or maybe just a drug induced, laid back nature as tells us what his family have suffered at the hands of the Taliban warlords. Rufus Wright's posh officer seems typical, a world away from Gary and Zia, but a leader making good decisions in a difficult situation.
Essentially a dark comedy, The Empire has so much that is engaging. It is a study of Gary the soldier and what motivates him as he explains his background as a North Londoner living in a diverse community, except that he doesn't describe it in such liberal terms but it's not racist either, more plain descriptive. It is an original war play with its moral debates wrapped in wit and the central dilemma posed as to Zia's status. If Black Watch is the documentary, DC Moore's The Empire is the black comedy with serious undertones — excellent, absorbing drama.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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