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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
US acclaim for Guantanamo play
Donald Rumsfeld (William Hoyland)
The play's reception has been better than expected (photo credit: John Haynes)
A British play which portrays the lives of detainees at Guantanamo Bay has opened to critical acclaim in the US.

Reviews in both the New York Times and the Washington Post newspapers praised the drama which follows the lives of four captives.

The directors of the play titled 'Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom' had worried how it would be received across the Atlantic.

But one American critic described the depiction as "deeply moving".

Detainees' accounts

Even the newspaper for one of the cities hit in the attacks of 11 September, the Washington Post, wrote: "It's impossible to give the cold shoulder to the suffering of the falsely accused.

"Even if you are inclined to chalk up some level of governmental overreaction as the inevitable product of this unorthodox war, you will find it difficult to dismiss the evidence of 'Guantanamo' with a stony salute to the interests of truth, justice and the American way."

When the performance ends, you may so share their claustrophobia that you wind up gratefully gulping down air as soon as you hit the sidewalk
The New York Times

The Post repeats the line of one American character in the play, who asks: "Surely, they could figure out which ones are dangerous?"

To which the newspaper answers that the play's "worthy contribution is to compel us all to wonder the same thing".

The play is based on the lives of actual detainees: Jamal al-Harith, also known as Jamal Udeen; Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi national who has lived in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, for 20 years; Moazzam Begg and Ruhal Ahmed.

Mr Begg and Mr al-Rawi are still being held in the camp, while Mr Ahmed and Mr al-Harith have been released.

Moazzam Beg (Paul Bhattacharjee) and solicitor Gareth Peirce (Jan Chappell)
The acting is powerful and unstilted (photo credit: John Haynes)

Guantanamo was first staged at The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north west London, and was compiled from transcripts and interviews of Britons already released.

Three of the men who gave their accounts - Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul and Mr Ahmed - recently helped human rights campaigners to produce a report on the conditions in which they were held.

The play was written by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo, and directed by Nicolas Kent and Sacha Wares.

The New York Times is sympathetic towards Azmat Begg, the father of Moazzam, who has repeatedly appealed for his son to be freed to face trial in Britain.

"The tone of Mr Begg (Harsh Nayyar), the father of Moazzam (Aasif Mandvi), a young man taken prisoner in Afghanistan, where he was setting up a water distribution system is simply sad, aggrieved and uncomprehending," the Times wrote.

The only criticism was that the play, at times, "feels more like a sermon for the converted than a drama".

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