Robin Soans’ play Talking to Terrorists is a piece of verbatim theatre: it has been written from material taken from interviews with the subjects.
What Soans has tried to do with this play is to show what makes an ordinary person become a terrorist and give us that ‘there but for the grace of god’ feeling. Quite early in the play, Edward (a psychologist) says “The difference between a terrorist and the rest of us really isn’t that great”.
Some of the stories are horrific. A number of the ex-terrorists were recruited or seriously damaged as children, which led to their involvement in terrorism. So we get to hear the words of a woman who was a child soldier in Uganda, including her description of being made to sleep with the male officers, who were old enough to be her father.
The difficulty with reading this play is the huge cast of characters, most of whom are are referenced in the script by their acronyms: so N.R.A. is an ex-member of the National Resistance Army in Uganda; I.R.A. is an ex-member of the Irish Republican Army; U.V.F. is an ex-member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, etc.
Reading S.S.1, A.A.B., AMB, S.S.2 etc instead of character names is very confusing and necessitates constantly turning back to the front of the script to see what each acronym stands for and to try and picture where each character comes from. On stage this would be much clearer because, even though the play suggests doubling of characters, you’d still see different physical characteristics and hear different vocal traits to help distinguish between them all.
The message throughout the play seems to be one of tolerance and understanding – even for people who have committed atrocities. Yet the final note isn’t one of redemption or healing, but rather one of a new generation filled with hate and ready to join the ranks of terrorists. It’s spoken by a Bethlehem school girl after a girl she knew has been killed by an Israeli sniper:
GIRL: When I first saw the Twin Towers on television, I felt sorry. But now I feel happy that they died. It’s their turn to suffer. I could see any thousands of them die. I wouldn’t feel a thing.
Publisher: Oberon Modern Plays
Cast: 5M, 3F (or more if the characters aren’t doubled)