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Occupational Hazards review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘patchy and pedestrian’

Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Silas Carson in Occupational Hazards at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Silas Carson in Occupational Hazards at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner

Before Rory Stewart became a Tory MP he was deputy governorate co-ordinator in Iraq in 2003, an experience he documented in his book, The Prince of the Marshes. This memoir, which was at some point given the rather snappier title of Occupational Hazards, has now been adapted for the stage by Stewart’s friend, the playwright Stephen Brown.

By necessity he’s conflated and condensed a lot of the events, while at the same time trying to convey the complexity of what Stewart was dealing with in Maysan province, the tensions between the different tribal and religious groups, the growing influence of the Islamists.

Stewart, a then 30 year-old Eton-educated diplomat, was charged with handling the transfer of power to a local Iraqi administration. The play only touches on the problematic nature of that process. It’s functional but dramatically unexciting adaptation. Simon Godwin’s production doesn’t help matters. It’s patchy in its pacing, there’s a lot of yelling but very little jeopardy or sense of what’s at stake; too many scenes terminate with someone stomping angrily off stage.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes is an engaging Stewart stand-in, but the character of Rana (Aiysha Hart), the token woman, feels like little more than a mouthpiece, Karim Mahood, the titular guerrilla prince, lacks charisma and presence, and none of the other Iraqi characters are particularly well fleshed out. Paul Wills’ concrete compound set is similarly workmanlike.

Stewart is an enigmatic and driven individual – the man once walked across Afghanistan on foot – but Godwin’s tepid, pedestrian production only skims the surface of things.

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Patchy, pedestrian adaptation of Rory Stewart’s fascinating memoir