The Prisoner's Dilemma

Tuesday, 29 January, 2002
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

This drama concerns a bloody conflict in the fictional Eastern European country of Kavkhazia where contained within its borders is a Muslim enclave called Drozhdania, whose people are fighting for independence.

This production premiered in Stratford last year before the 11th September atrocity and the Afghanistan conflict so it as acquired particular significance in the light of those events. The author shows how negotiations for peace can succeed or fail depending on something as seemingly insignificant as just one word and its meaning.

Act one is set in 1989 at a seminar on how to handle complex negotiations in conflicts. This highlights many familiar obstacles negotiators face. One side demanding “an immediate end to martial law and withdrawal of government troops from the area of the indigenous peoples.” The other refusing to do anything until there is “an unconditional cessation of your terrorist campaign”. This is just one of many dilemmas the seminar addresses, and uses many thought provoking analogies to do so.

The play then moves forward 2 months and is set in Finland where both the Kavkhazia and Drozhdania negotiators are secretly trying to find a peace settlement at the home of a Finish mediator. What follows is an absorbing and fascinating scene that thoroughly enlightens one on the views and predicaments of both parties. It shows how both sides are desperate for peace but are not able to trust each other to negotiate a genuine ceasefire. In the end a settlement is close, but for one word, Renounce! The Drozhdania’s say they cannot “renounce violence” because it would make their armed struggle invalid meaning it was wrong. But the Kavkhazia’s say, “there is no guarantee without renouncing you will not take up arms again.” So what is needed is another word that is acceptable to both! A word that basically means giving up violence, not because the violence was wrong, but because it is no longer required. They find one in “relinquish”.

The drama then covers the next two years in which agreements are broken for various reasons and civil war takes place with war crimes being committed making peace more difficult, particularly when the ones who committed the war crimes appear to have escaped justice for the sake of peace. The drama also highlights the ‘self-interest’ motivation behind some Western countries involvement in the peace talks!

The whole cast perform solidly, but Zoe Waites is particularly outstanding as ‘Kelima’ a Drozhdania ‘terrorist’ and chief negotiator for her people. She brilliantly captures the character’s ruthlessness as well as her passion for peace. Also impressive is Penny Downie as the Finish diplomat who tries desperately to be a peacemaker but who herself gets caught up in the morality of the negotiations.

This new drama has received good notices from the popular press...CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Memorably intelligent and absorbing play." LYN GARDENER for THE GUARDIAN says, "As riveting and enjoyable as any play in London." RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "This is a powerful evocation of how language creates and reflects the frustrations inherent in achieving political compromise. " Lasting 2 hours and 50 minutes this is a fascinating and intriguing drama about ethnic and religious conflict and the difficultly of negotiating for peace.


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