How could such a significant event in British history be presented in a way which engages the audience and is true to the events as they unfolded?
Prolific playwright Nigel Pascoe QC (pictured) – a former Leader of the Western Circuit specialising in crime – has taken on the challenge, bringing his forensic approach to the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Through painstaking and extensive research he has pieced together the unfolding developments, drawing on newspaper articles, minutes of meetings, parliamentary debates and numerous other documents and sources. His dramatization of events seamlessly integrates contemporaneous quotations from politicians, aides and journalists (viz Alistair Campbell: ‘I do worry that the nuclear section will become the main focus and as currently drafted is not in great shape’.)
The cast for this staged reading was drawn, Pascoe-style, from the talented legal fraternity and accompanied in the most poignant moments by violinist Iwona Boesche.
The play opened in an impartial setting. ‘Was it legal? Was it right? I needed to make up my own mind,’ outlined Pascoe as narrator. ‘A lawyer needs to go back to first principles. If it wasn’t legal, then we shouldn’t have done it.’ John Bromley-Davenport QC of 1 Gray’s Inn Square was an excellent first voice, engaging and teasing the audience as the story unfolded. He was skilfully supported by co-voices, His Honour Peter Cowell (former Cambridge-footlights) and 3rblaw’s Heather Oliver.
In true legal tradition, the play unfolded from the ‘objective bystander’ point of view – a citizen concerned about events as they developed. One sensed the author’s struggle with how to tell the story without descending into the arena of criticism that is now rife following the Chilcot Report. How to achieve impartiality? The answer to this conundrum became apparent as soon as the drama started. We, the audience, were invited to be judge and jury.
What followed was a factual account of what took place in the run-up to the war. The cast gave sterling performances, with Gareth Frow of NOMS playing an eerily familiar George W Bush Jnr, including his infamous put-down, ‘F**k Saddam.’
Iain Christie of 5RB was superb as Tony Blair. At times throughout the play, it felt that the actual events of 2003 were unfolding before our very eyes. Bromley-Davenport invited the audience – the jury – to follow the chronological trail carefully. Events were presented in such a way that it was easy for the audience to do so.
Jonathan Reuben, of 5KBW, managed to convey a persuasive Alistair Campbell. Lord Goldsmith was played by Richard Ritchie (XXIV) as a very believable Sir Humphrey Appleby.
This was a fascinating insight into the working of the executive decision-making processes and the challenges faced in maintaining checks and balances in the system. The Chilcot Report was central to unravelling the events leading to the Iraq War and listening to an account of factual communication between the United States President and the British Prime Minister left little doubt where the story would end (Tony Blair: ‘I will be with you whatever.’) But, again, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
The story behind the compilation of the weapons of mass destruction dossier was itself as riveting as it was horrifying; like watching a horror movie, but being unable to stop watching even as the victim is beheaded. Headlines from The Sun such as ‘He’s got them. Let’s get them’ provided welcome light relief.
There were magnificent performances from barrister Hugh-Guy Lorriman as Robin Cook, Richard Tutt (Pump Court Chambers) as Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Neil Butterfield (former High Court judge) as Douglas Hogg, Simon Walters (Drystone Chambers) as William Hague and Claire Eady as Clare Short, to name a few.
The verdict? The play seeks to present the facts and evidence to the court of public opinion. It does not seek to indict anyone. There is a lesson to be learned, though, from this dramatization of events. It is not who was right or wrong, but how to learn from the consequences that followed and how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. This is a land of hope and glory, and as sons and daughters of this soil, we owe a vow to our country to learn that lesson. To that end, this play is worth seeing time and time again, and ought to be performed in Parliament, Whitehall, schools and town halls across the country. How say you?
Reviewer Desiree Artesi, Thomas More Chambers and Counsel Editorial Board
My Country Right or Wrong is available in paperback: 158 pages (PublishNation, 2016, ISBN 978-1326753085) and Kindle edition
FULL CAST LIST Reader and Janice Kelly: Elizabeth Pascoe; Narrator: Nigel Pascoe; First Voice: John Bromley-Davenport; Second Voice: Peter Cowell; Third Voice: Heather Oliver; American Reporter, Sir Michael Boyce and William Hague MP: Simon Walters; Tony Blair MP: Iain Christie; George Bush, Geoff Hoon MP and Greg Dyke: Gareth Frow; Sir David Manning and Robin Cook MP: Hugh-Guy Lorriman; Lord Goldsmith and Dr David Kelly: Richard Ritchie; Sir Richard Dearlove, Iain Duncan Smith MP and John Humphrys: Richard Tutt; Alistair Campbell and Andrew Gilligan: Jonathan Reuben; Jonathan Powell, Richard Sambrook Tam Dayell MP and Tom Kelly: John Steel; John Scarlett, John Denham MP, John Bellinger and Donald Anderson: James Batten; Dr Hans Blix: Ben Smoulders; Sir Michael Boyce: Simon Walters; Clare Short MP, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Susan Watts: Caroline Eady; Douglas Hogg MP: Neil Butterfield; Violin: Iwona Boesche