Review: The Nights by Henry Naylor at Gilded Balloon

There is more than a touch of a ghost story about the latest from Henry Naylor, the writer whose meaty, issue-led plays have won him a firm Fringe following. More than a touch of poetry too. A two hander, it stars Naylor himself as Kane, a former army officer who stood trial and was acquitted for his treatment of prisoners in an Iraqi prison, and Caitlin Thorburn as Carter, a tabloid journalist with a nose for a good story and what her readers want.

When teenage Isis bride Shamina Begum is discovered by The Times in a Syrian refugee camp, Carter’s editor is furious that his paper hasn’t got the scoop. But Carter is on the case, determined to deliver the headline he and the paper’s readers—who are outraged by Begum’s apparent lack of repentance and eagerness to return home—want to see in a 72pt headline. But is Carter driven by journalistic zeal, or by vengeance for the murder by Isis of her friend and mentor, James Foley? She’s watched the online video of his beheading 23 times.

She tracks down Kane only to discover that the man she thinks of as a hero is reluctant to give her the quote she wants and certainly doesn’t see himself as she tries to cast him. This is a man whose own girlfriend was killed in Iraq and who knows that the wild justice of vengeance is no real justice at all.

Naylor always writes a gripping yarn, and this is no exception. It is an intelligent play and one that points out that while it is easy to know who are the heroes and villains of the Second World War, the Iraqi campaign is far trickier to unravel. Particularly when a war fought in the name of Western values so often led to shameful behaviours and actions by Western troops. Kane, clearly suffering from PTSD, is haunted by visions of camel spiders, and a room in his shop, surrounded by paraphernalia from Saddam Hussein’s palaces, becomes the site of a re-enactment of an incident of torture and ill-treatment.   
Thorburn has just the right air of terrier-like journalistic doggedness as Carter and Naylor suggests the grief and guilt of man who knows that he belongs in prison. If the play’s imagery sometimes seems over-heated, this is an hour that keeps the tension bubbling and stirs the pot very nicely.

The Nights by Henry Naylor, Gilded Balloon, 31 Jul – 26 Aug (not 14), 4.15pm

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