January 18th, 2011
12:09 PM ET

Tiny theater's Afghanistan play heads to the Pentagon

As Iraq's insurgency was peaking, and American soldiers were dying at a dizzying rate from roadside bombs, a theater director in London was having an epiphany.

Plenty of plays about the Iraqi carnage were piling up on his desk, but there were none about the the calamities befalling Afghanistan.

It was then that Nicholas Kent, director of the tiny Tricycle Theatre - far from the glitz and glamour of London's fabled West End playhouses - decided to act.

"I became aware in 2007-2008 how it was all going wrong in Afghanistan," he said. "It wasn't being reported in the media and certainly there was no artistic response to it."

He commissioned a dozen writers to produce a dozen short plays on Afghan history. The result, "The Great Game," changed the Afghan debate in the United Kingdom at a stroke.

When the Chief of Britain's Defence Staff, Sir David Richards, saw the performance, he said, "I wish I'd seen it before I first deployed to Afghanistan in 2005. It would have made me a much better commander."

And the performance is now on its way to the Pentagon. Kent says Gen. Richards has been a significant driving force in bringing the performance to his American counterparts.

"The Great Game" is usually performed over three days, with four half-hour plays performed back-to-back each day.

Part one "traces the history of foreign and Western involvement in Afghanistan since the defeat of the British in 1842," Kent said.

The second installment of the trilogy "is more or less a reflection of now," he said: "The Soviet surge that fails over a decade, through the coming of the Taliban and the arrival of U.S. troops."

The final four plays highlight the problems facing aid workers, Afghans and troops today.

The British and American military are getting special performances, playing the whole cycle out in one day rather than three.

Kent wanted to stimulate debate and discussion on a conflict he felt was wrong.

"You are putting yourself in some one else's boots," he said of what happens to the audience. "You are empathizing, you are sympathizing with people, thinking what you would do in their situation."

He is thrilled that both the British and now the American military have taken such a significant interest in the production, saying there can be no better way to grapple with the complexities of Afghanistan.

"If you read a book you can put it down. If you read a newspaper you can turn the page. If you see some television you can switch channels," he said. "With a play, you are stuck there for some time, and in this case for a whole day. You have to really think about the challenges."

But it's not just his audiences who have been challenged. "The Great Game" has changed Kent's own views.

He now thinks pulling troops out precipitously would be a disaster and is increasingly concerned about instability over the border in nuclear-armed Pakistan - so much so that he's considering a play on non-proliferation.

Kent is a product of his own ethos, learning from his experiences.

"If people start to think outside the box and look at these issues through a different form, rather than in a lecture hall but maybe through an art form, they may learn quite a lot," he said.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. ron

    Danger...Danger.....Danger .....WILL ROBINSON !

    January 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Carole Clarke

    What a good idea! We should've known all this going in but of course nobody bothered. At least this way it will enter their conciousness in a positive way and the knowledge will be there. But there are those in power positions that don't care, they are there to milk the system and don't care who the enemy is. Unfortunately, they pay into the campaigns of the politicians who have the vote on this war so they will have their effect.

    January 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sirmonkey

    Its said that the US's own military dosen't know history.
    Its why they teach us history in school (to learn from others mistakes).

    Then mix in, their in-ability to see past monday
    And the endulgencie in kick backs from gov/mil contractors.

    They have no idea whats going on, or even what they are invovled in.
    Do they even tho why they are there? or what they are trying to "fix" ?

    -a gun toting red-neck from northern VA
    I was down for taking out saddam, but not this current (endless) "war"

    January 18, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dindy

      Sirmonkey.... Taliban have supported Bin. That is why us has gone there. But now Bin is not there I think . Yet they fight with Taliban too.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gary Johndro


    January 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kiera Braun

      With so few people aware of the Afghanistan situation, it brings up the questions: Why are we there? What are we really doing? The History News Network featured an article by Ira Chernus (http://www.hnn.us/articles/135684.html) which addresses the question; it does well in addressing the phenomenon brought up in this article:

      "They’ve given up on the possibility of victory in Afghanistan. So there’s no real chance to go for the classic version of the myth in which the good guys totally vanquish the bad guys."

      The question is, what are our motives? And how are we really helping?

      January 21, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
      • John

        That's easy to answer,Kiera. Our motives for being in Afghanistan is it's mineral resources and building our invisible empire and the only people we're helping are the huge corporations in America to exploit those resources!

        January 21, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |