From the moment in 1999 when trainee lawyer and political activist Jo Wilding took aim and landed a ripe tangerine on the back of ‘Smiler in Chief’ Tony Blair, her life was to change forever. Stung into taking off for Iraq to see for herself the effects of UN sanctions on ordinary people, she witnesses events and receives stories that send her back again and again into the hell of the ensuing war. She becomes knowingly addicted to the place and its people, pouring her anger and despair into a blog, which became first a book and now Paul Hodson’s drama-documentary for the stage.
A scene from Don't Shoot the Clowns at the Brian Friel Theatre, Belfast
The first hour is more documentary than drama and, as a result, something of a dry watch. But come the interval, the drama thankfully takes over. The central character J has already silenced us with vivid word pictures and sparse exchanges with the motley assortment of fellow freelance aid workers, whom she has roped into forming a ramshackle clown show. Eventually, along with audiences of excited children in squatter camps and orphanages, we get to share its light and laughter. Meanwhile, J and her television journalist sister Mary drift apart in their personal aspirations and political ideologies. Briefly united in the Green Zone of Baghdad, Mary’s hollow quest for sound bites and headlines puts further distance between them. And while J struggles to hold onto her life, her sanity and her convictions, Saddam falls and Mary goes public with a ringing endorsement of the Blair/Bush strategy. There’s no going back for the sisters, as the ripple effect of the war destroys the fabric of another family, very far removed from the eye of the storm.