The playwright Henry Naylor has won widespread recognition on the Fringe for his well-justified obsession with the catastrophic conflicts that have spread across Iraq, Syria, Yemen and beyond since the United States and Britain marched into Iraq in 2003, and for the series of powerful dramas he has written about the human impact of those and other wars.
The Nights by Henry Naylor, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh * * * *
The Iraq War is also uppermost in his mind this year; but this time, he analyses the conflict from the perspective of a young present-day British tabloid journalist determined to demonise “jihadi bride” Shamima Begum, and of the Iraq veterans from whom she tries to gather hate-filled quotes to spice up her front-page stories about the case.
Caitlin Thorburn plays the young journalist, Carter, with a terrific, wide-eyed energy, fuelled – in the story – by her friendship with a famous foreign correspondent beheaded by Isis; and Naylor himself plays Kane, a veteran who runs a shop full of military memorabilia, but who flatly refuses to give her the kind of simplistic message she wants.
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Sometimes, the nightmare imagery of Naylor’s text, as Kane begins to open up about his memories, shoots straight over the top into implausibility; there are ghosts and hauntings, and whole worlds reflected in the eyeballs of people long dead.
At the core of the drama, though, is the experience of two servicemen – one dead, one still living – who cannot join the tabloid clamour to free them from prosecution for war crimes, or any other such “good guys versus bad guys” campaign, because they know that they were guilty; and Naylor and Thorburn – together with director Louise Skaaning – take us on a journey towards Carter’s ultimate recognition of that truth that is as powerful and passionate in outline, as it is riveting and disturbing in detail.
Until 26 August.