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Embedded review at Riverside Studios London

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Tim Robbins’ satire sees Iraq as a staged-managed, rolling news event, a war in which the American media played a bigger role than the military and where the rescue of Jessica Lynch – wryly dubbed ‘Private Ryan’ – usefully deflects attention from the horrors.

Its title refers to a complicit group of journalists ’embedded’ with the US forces, who thus gained access to news at source but lost perspective and independence. Scenes in which VJ Foster’s Colonel Hardchannel drills his rookie reporters with gags based on Andrew Lloyd Webber shows make for especially effective comedy. But in some telling later moments featuring Nathan Kornelis as a clear-eyed, breakaway newsman, the worms eventually turn.

Iraq is renamed ‘Gomorra’, Baghdad becomes ‘Babylon’ and Saddam is always referred to as ‘the new Hitler’. But the war itself is mostly taken seriously, using grainy footage from a century of American conflict, and with fine downstage performances from Ben Cain as a GI struggling to cope with his destruction of an Iraqi family, Brian Finney as a tough regular sergeant and Kaili Hollister’s Ryan distraught in a Baghdad hospital ward among wounded children.

Controversy has surrounded the masked Washington scenes, a neo-conservative cabal in masturbatory thrall to the late Leo Strauss, villains easily identified as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza ‘Gondola’ Rice, among others. The entertainment value is high as they praise the Noble Lie for the Greater Good, and welcome war as a distraction from Enron. But these crude caricatures undermine Robbins’ main message.

Production Information

Riverside Studios, London, August 31-October 23

Author/director
Tim Robbins
Producers
Riverside Studios, Robert Boyett Theatricals, The Actors’ Gang
Cast includes
Ben Cain, VJ Foster, Brian Finney, Kaili Hollister, Nathan Kornelis
Running time
1hr 30mins

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