This play by Alastair Brett and Siân Evans takes another look at an incident that happened 25 years ago, back in 1988, and which caused considerable controversy at the time – not least because 3 people lost their lives.
The setting is the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. Three members of the IRA planning to detonate a bomb during the changing of the guard ceremony, are shot dead by the SAS (Special Air Service). Apparently, British Intelligence caught wind of the IRA operation well in advance and set up Operation Flavius to monitor and presumably disrupt the IRA's plans. On the 6th of March 1988, the SAS shot the 3 unarmed IRA terrorists dead in Gibraltar before they could explode any device. Subsequently, the usual procedures for dealing with crime scenes were not followed properly. A month later, a television documentary entitled 'Death On The Rock' (but called 'Ambush' here) was broadcast in the UK, which was critical of the SAS operation and produced a witness who claimed that the SAS did not not issue any warnings to the terrorists prior to shooting them.
I suspect that we will never know the truth about what really happened on the day the three IRA terrorists were killed on 'The Rock', and this play does very little to enlighten us. But that does not seem to be the main intention or purpose of 'Gibraltar' anyway. Instead, it seems to be about 'the culture, practices and ethics of journalism'. And that still has relevance of course for us today, particularly as we have just been through a lengthy examination of the press in the form of the Leveson Inquiry, and the subsequent decisions about how the press should be controlled in the future.
George Irving is Nick, an experienced journalist who has been reporting on the criminal activities on the Costa del Crime for some time. His sources are members of the ex-pat criminal fraternity, and he follows pretty robust investigative journalistic procedures. When the terrorists are shot, a naive and inexperienced young reporter called Amelia (Greer Dale-Foulkes) fetches-up on The Rock and swiftly finds an eye witness (here called Rosa, but in reality called Carmen Proetta) to be the star of the TV documentary about the shootings.
I never felt entirely at ease with either George Iving's Nick, or Greer Dale-Foulkes's Amelia. Neither of them seemed to me to have that underlying hunger for a really good story, or the cynical wit one often finds in journalists. And I could not buy the notion that the inexperienced Amelia was the one who made the decision about what to included in the TV documentary. In reality, it seems there was an experienced team on the job, and one would have thought it would have been a collective decision about the angle the documentary would take. However, Billy McColl is impressive as Tommy, an ex-pat criminal who makes a few quid on the side feeding Nick snippets of information, but is also involved with drug-smuggling, among much else besides, one imagines. Mr McColl manages to convey fear in two different ways. First, he is quite a scary person in his own right – not the sort you would want to get on the wrong side of. But he is also scared of other criminals, the British Intelligence Service and, possibly, the IRA as well.
After almost 2 hours, I felt rather overwhelmed by the amount of information presented and unsure about what I was really being asked to consider, even though it is pretty clear that the authors are on the side of thoroughgoing investigative journalism.