London has two new productions, both of which could be said to fit into the genre of 'documentary theatre', using the words of the participants to bring contemporary issues and events to the stage. In every other respect they differ, however: not only in their distance from us in time and place, but in the impact they seek to make on their audience.
Under its artistic director, Nicolas Kent, Tricycle has a well- established reputation for 'tribunal plays', which recreate the key moments from some of the most important and troubling judicial hearings of recent times. Bloody Sunday, based on the Saville inquiry into the killing of 14 protest marchers by the British army in Londonderry in 1972, is able to use virtually the same set as the theatre's recent distillation of the Hutton inquiry, cluttering the stage with desks, box files and plasma screens to display documents.
This form of theatre is determinedly untheatrical. The lights remain up throughout to give audiences the feeling of being participants, every verbal slip and procedural aside in the transcript is preserved; the actors remain at their desks. The focus is entirely on the events of 30 January 1972, and they were dramatic enough.
Even at a distance of more than three decades, there are some shocking revelations here, such as the opinion of General Sir Robert Ford, then Britsh army commander in Northern Ireland, that the only way to restore law and order would be to shoot selected ringleaders. (There is a glint of black humour in his suggestion that 'marginally lethal' 0.22mm ammunition be used.) And there is anguish as Geraldine McBride describes seeing Barney McGuigan shot in the head a few yards away while waving a white handkerchief " not a pistol, as the unapologetic Soldier F, who killed him, insists.
Another soldier, however, expresses regret, admitting that all his claims at the time of seeing gunmen on the streets, and of nail bombs and acid bombs being thrown, were put into his mouth by the military authorities. Tricycle's usual editor, Richard Norton- Taylor, had to winnow down 14 million words of testimony for this script, but the contrast between the plummy, punctilious English barristers and the passionate, often suspicious, Northern Irish witnesses speaks volumes.
There is a transition of more than a few miles involved in the shift from Tricycle's examination of Bloody Sunday to the Royal Court's evocation of the endless conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories. …