Nineveh Tells the Sad and Shocking Stories of Former Soldiers

Penny Flood reviews an ambitious initiative at Riverside Studios

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Nineveh is an ambitious arts initiative where director Allin Conant worked with groups of former soldiers in various war zones, listening to their stories.

These are war-damaged young men, brutalised by their experiences, with horrific tales to tell. It is these stories that are the inspiration for Nineveh.

Three young men, Richie, Joel and Johnny, are trapped in the belly of a whale, they don’t know how they got there and have no idea how to get out. They’ve all fought in wars and their experiences have left them brutalised, aggressive and violent.

Jean Paul Sartre in his play Huis Clos posited the idea that "Hell is Other People". His characters were stuck in a room for all eternity with people they didn’t like.

Nineveh has a similar theme, but for these men Hell is the memories of the horrors they perpetrated and the dreams of what might have been if they hadn’t been called to fight. And, like Sartre’s characters, there’s no way out.

NIneveh at Riverside Studios
Eventually the whale swallows Chance, a young boy from an unnamed African state who was forced to fight, given a gun and told to shoot his mother.

He too is as much victim as perpetrator as he carries the scars of torture and his lips have been sewn together.

 

Of course it’s shocking - it’s meant to be. But along with the shock there’s a deep sense of sadness in the awful waste of lives. And for these youngsters there’s no relief even now the fighting’s over.

A tender moment, as Johnny remembers the milk pouring into his son’s mouth as he suckles at his mother’s breast, becomes painful as he confuses it with the cement he poured into the mouth of a man he buried alive.

Nineveh is the result of the Return Project of Theatre Témon, a company specialising in socially engaging work that pushes the boundaries. It’s got good intentions as it tries to give a voice to the war damaged of both sides in a way that entertains as well as challenges, but it doesn’t quite work.

The stories are interspersed with lots of biblical references, a great deal of fighting, and occasional flashes of wit – say Nineveh backwards and it sound like Heaven – but that doesn’t save the play. As horror piles on horror, its lack of coherence dilutes.

There’s an important story to be told here, these people deserve to be heard, but sadly, Nineveh isn’t it.

Nineveh continues at Riverside Studios until May 12.

 

April 25, 2013