RSS feed

project

The Great Game: Afghanistan

Tricycle Theatre

Afghanistan

“I can tell you that 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 [to Afghanistan] myself in 2005 for the first time—would have made me a much better Commander of the ISAF Forces.”

– Sir David Richards, then Head of the British Army, 2010, after watching “The Great Game: Afghanistan”

“The Great Game: Afghanistan” is a series of 12 half-hour plays dealing with 170 years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, from 1842 to 2010. They take the audience on a journey encompassing the Anglo-Afghan wars, independence, the Russian invasion, the CIA arming of the mujahideen, the coming of the Taliban, Operation Enduring Freedom, reconstruction, Western aid and the continuing insurgency[1].

Highlighting politics, social affairs and the history of a country that has long been a focus of British, European and American foreign policy, the production premiered in 2009 at the Tricycle Theatre in London, UK and toured the USA, including several performances at the Pentagon, where it was seen as an educational tool for US soldiers and officials.

British intelligence officer, explorer and writer Arthur Conolly first introduced the term “The Great Game” to describe the strategic rivalry and conflict between the British Empire and the Russian Empire over sovereignty over Central Asia. The term was brought into mainstream consciousness by British novelist Rudyard Kipling in his novel ‘Kim’ (1901).

“The Great Game: Afghanistan,” commissioned by Nicolas Kent, long-serving director of the Tricycle Theatre, is made up of 12 short plays, each by a different writer. Those 12 short plays are divided into a trilogy: 1842- 1930 Invasion & Independence (Part I), 1979-1996 Communism, The Mujahideen & The Taliban (Part II), 1996- 2009 Enduring Freedom (Part III).  The plays are based on historial facts and real people including British Empire governors, Afghan amirs, villagers, charity workers, tribal leaders and allied soldiers. They include debates about democracy, women’s rights and marriage.

Rosie Goldsmith, journalist and presenter at the British Council’s international affairs podcasts, said in The Exchange audio production for the British Council, which sponsored the plays’ US tour, about “The Great Game” that it contains, “polemics aplenty but no blame or moral judgement. The idea is: you make up your own mind.” Nicholas Kent said in the same podcast that, “I think they [the plays] do very much make you put yourself in the position of the Afghan. They look at it very much from the Afghan cultural and historical perspective, which I think is very overlooked by the West because we don’t know much about it.”[2]

“The Great Game: Afghanistan,” directed by Kent and  co-directed by Indhu Rubasingham, was intended to increase awareness and put a human face on the headlines, shining a new light on the country’s culture and conflicts. The Tricycle’s management has said, broadly, that it wants the plays and related exhibitions and films to stimulate public discussion and debate on an important focus of UK and American foreign policy.

Legacy

After the plays’ successful six-week run at the Tricycle Theatre, Sir David Richards, then Head of the British Army, arranged a day-long showing of “The Great Game,” for British military service members and policy-makers. He remarkably stated  that, “I can tell you that 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 [to Afghanistan] myself in 2005 for the first time – would have made me a much better Commander of the ISAF Forces.”

“The Great Game” received outstanding reviews in the UK and the US. Then-U.S. Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus was alerted after watching a tape of the plays in Kabul. “The plays fitted in perfectly with his vision of a successful army grounded not just in military and political studies, as he put it, but in the arts and humanities too.” said Rosie Goldsmith.[3]

The Shakespeare Theatre in downtown Washington offered to host “The Great Game” for two nights for free after the small in-house theatre at the Pentagon proved unsuitable to put on the performances. The Bob Woodruff Foundation, established by the ABC News correspondent injured while covering the Iraq war, made a donation allowed the plays to be free to all U.S. troops, and the British Council covered the remaining costs with a grant.

As the first theatre performance shown to Pentagon personnel as an educational tool, “The Great Game” showed U.S. troops, military planners and aid workers a new perspective on the country’s history and culture that many knew very little about before being deployed, showing the frustration and helplessness of successive outsiders trying to do good and creating an emotional connection- “The Great Game” achieved what news articles, lectures and country reports were unable to do.

As one military staff member declared after watching two-thirds of the trilogy in US: “The arts is one field, some of the military strategies are a different field. Left brain, right brain: it’s good to use both to help solve a problem as complex as Afghanistan. So these cultural awareness pieces help us understand a little bit more about what it’s like to have lived in a culture of 30 years of war and what the Taliban’s really done in the country, rather than just walk in on a one-year deployment and walk out.”[4]

Doug Wilson, the Pentagon’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, said: “There is an assumption that the arts and our men and women in uniform are from different planets. It’s not the case. The arts can provide a means to discuss and explore and in this case learn about the history and culture of a very complicated country. It is tremendous food for thought.” [5]

With “The Great Game: Afghanistan” the Tricycle has created a theatre work, compelling enough to be embraced by the military in an unusual attempt to Afghanistan’s culture, people and history.

“We started this project in a small theatre in West London and to realize that it could potentially have an impact on major decision makers, on policy in Afghanistan, was kind of a little bit mind-blowing really. And that a project like theatre can reach an audience that can make a change – that’s what you dream of, that’s why you go into theatre, that something you do can make a change.” Indhu Rubasingham, co director

References

Goldsmith, R. (2011) The Great Game at the Pentagon, The Exchange. [podcast] March 1, 2011. Available at: http://blog.britishcouncil.org/2011/03/01/the-exchange-reports-on-the-great-game/ [Accessed: 06/01/2013].

Kent, N. (2011) How The Great Game emptied the Pentagon. Backstage Blog, [blog] March 2nd, 2011, Available at: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/3157/how-the-great-game-emptied-the-pentagon/[Accessed: 09 Jan 2013].

Norton-Taylor, R. (2011) London theatre troupe to perform play on Afghan history for US military. [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/09/london-troupe-pentagon-afghanistan [Accessed: 11 Jan 2013].

The New York Times (2010) In 12 plays, 150 years of Afghan history. [online] Available at:http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/11/28/theater/28great.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 [Accessed: 11 Jan 2013].

The Tricycle (n.d.) The Great Game: Afghanistan. [online] Available at:http://www.tricycle.co.uk/home/about-the-tricycle-pages/about-us-tab-menu/archive/archived-theatre-production/afghanistan/ [Accessed: 02 Jan 2013].

The Washington Post (2009) Play about Afghan conflicts gets encore performance with Pentagon blessing. [online] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/09/AR2011010900125.html [Accessed: 10 Jan 2013].

Related links

The Great Game: Afghanistan at the Tricycle

The Great Game at the Pentagon: Reviews and News Articles

Drama behind the headlines: Tricycle Afghanistan season (The Guardian Video)

Videos

British Council CEO on The Great Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FKFnqbREL8

The Great Game: Afghanistan at The Tricycle

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri1qWUmKsoQ

The Great Game: Afghanistan (Part 1 excerpt)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkRB-X7to6k

The Great Game: Afghanistan (Part 2 excerpt)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UsHqR8OKfs

The Great Game: Afghanistan (Part 3 excerpt)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Od1e84A8WeM



[1] Kent, N. (2011) How The Great Game emptied the Pentagon. Backstage Blog, [blog] March 2nd, 2011, Available at: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/3157/how-the-great-game-emptied-the-pentagon/[Accessed: 09 Jan 2013].

[2] Goldsmith, R. (2011) The Great Game at the Pentagon, The Exchange. [podcast] March 1, 2011. Available at: http://blog.britishcouncil.org/2011/03/01/the-exchange-reports-on-the-great-game/ [Accessed: 06/01/2013].

[3] See above

[4] See above

[5] Kent, N. (2011) How The Great Game emptied the Pentagon. Backstage Blog, [blog] March 2nd, 2011, Available at: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/3157/how-the-great-game-emptied-the-pentagon/[Accessed: 09 Jan 2013].

 

Comments

0 Comments