One of the basics of creating a play is selecting a subject. When writing about factual events and recent history, this becomes even more important. Gibraltar is a good choice. It was a big story at the time – widely discussed and highly controversial – but it was long enough ago to seem fresh to current audiences, some of whom will be too young to remember the events portrayed or the political climate in which they occurred.
In a nutshell, the play is about the shooting – in Gibraltar in 1988 – of three unarmed members of the IRA by the SAS and the legal, political and media discourse in its aftermath concerning the lawfulness, or otherwise, of the killings.
On entering Studio 2 in the Arcola, the first objects to catch the eye are the 1980s-style televisions hanging from the studio on three sides of the stage (presumably the work of AV and Sound Designer Marco Devetek), all showing a still of the Rock of Gibraltar with the play’s title across it in a suitably old-fashioned font: slightly reminiscent of short-lived soap opera Eldora. These screens were used to good effect throughout the production: enhancing the minimal set; naming the characters (for instance during Geoffrey Howe’s speech) and displaying a test card throughout the interval. In an amusing touch at the end of the play, the screens were cleverly utilised to display TV-style credits for all involved.
I was very impressed by Set and Costume Designer Cordelia Chisholm’s attention to detail: the props and costumes were perfectly of the time, even down to the jewellery and hairstyles of the female actors. The set itself was minimal, which works well for a play of this type with actors playing multiple characters and fast scene changes. The lighting, by Mike Robertson, was very helpful in this respect.
Particularly in the second half, when the energy seemed to be higher, George Irving, Karina Fernandez, Greer Dale-Foulkes and Billy McColl all gave fascinating performances. Karina Fernandez for me was the most compelling, especially when transferring between characters with consummate ease. The play’s direction, by James Robert Carson, showed a lightness of touch with some interesting quirky features: I particularly enjoyed the SAS’s drunken singing.
In their telling of the story, writers Alastair Brett and Sian Evans do not seem to intend to direct the audience’s thoughts or opinions, nor is the direction that way inclined. My personal interpretation was that Margaret Thatcher and her government had manipulated the press for their own ends, but another viewer could come away with quite a different impression. For this reason, as well as for all the other persuasive arguments in its favour, I would strongly advise you to see this play and construe the events of 1988 for yourself.
Gibraltar is at the Arcola theatre until Saturday, 20 April, at 8pm nightly, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays. For more information visit http://www.arcolatheatre.com.