London theatre troupe to perform play on Afghan history for US military

Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre will take The Great Game to Washington to show to American soldiers

The world's most powerful military machine, bogged down in Afghanistan, is to seek help from a troupe of actors, directors and playwrights from a small north London playhouse.

The Pentagon has asked Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre to perform The Great Game, a series of plays, interspersed with extracts from interviews, covering 150 years of Afghan history. The idea was taken up by America's top brass after the plays were seen by General Sir David Richards, head of Britain's armed forces, earlier this year.

Richards, who took a group of Sandhurst cadets– future officers who will be sent to Afghanistan – to watch the three-part, seven-hour production, said: "The Ministry of Defence as a whole, and certainly the armed forces desperately want to understand the country well, and this series of plays – if I had seen it before I had deployed myself in 2005 for the first time – would have made me a much better commander." Richards headed the international security force in Afghanistan.

The Great Game covers the Anglo-Afghan wars of the 19th century, the Soviet occupation of the country, US support for the mujahideen fighters, and the rise of the Taliban.

Lieutenant Commander Ryan Perry, a spokesman for the US joint chiefs of staff, said interest in the production was sparked by several officers, including Brigadier General John Nicholson, who saw The Great Game during its US tour in September. "They felt it could serve as a learning tool for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of Afghanistan," he told the Washington Post.

Nicolas Kent, co-director of the production with Indhu Rubasingham, said: "Despite Obama's Afpak policy hardly featuring in the November US elections, the recent Tricycle Theatre tour there taught us that there was a huge hunger for knowledge about Afghanistan and the current conflict from both the public and the military in America."

The lecture theatre in the huge Pentagon complex was too small for the production so the Pentagon has booked Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company's Sidney Harman Hall to show the play to the US military over two days next month.

The production is sponsored by the British Council and the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which was set up by an ABC television journalist who was badly hurt while covering the Iraq war to support wounded soldiers and veterans.

Special accommodation will be made in the theatre for the expected large number of disabled theatregoers. "We've talked a lot about that with the department of defence. We're going to extend invitations to those hospitalised and receiving outpatient treatment," the Woodruff Foundation's executive director Rene Bardorf told the Post, referring to troops recuperating at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Centre. "For the young warrior, certain parts of the play[s] would make very good sense," she said.


Richard Norton-Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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