Casualties of war
A new play explores the realities of life for LGBT people in Iraq
The so-called 'War on Terror' has produced many casualties. Some we read about on a regular basis. Others are rarely mentioned. 'It's more difficult to be gay in Iraq now than it was under Saddam Hussein,' says theatre director Douglas Rintoul. 'LGBT people have been living in fear since religious militia took control of the streets. Before the invasion there was some liberty and security, and afterwards there was hope of a more free society. But the conservative Islamic forces that won power were unwilling to tolerate Western values and homosexuality became wrongly linked with Western vice. LGBT people became cheap and popular targets of hate. Death squads target LGBT people. They circulate lists of names. People are raped at checkpoints, kidnapped, tortured and even murdered in public.' Since 2003, he says, more than a thousand LGBT people have been killed.
Based on interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and Stonewall, Rintoul has devised a play, 'Elegy', which tells the story of a gay Iraqi asylum seeker. Was it difficult to develop a drama from such harrowing first-hand accounts? 'There's a responsibility to engage audiences empathetically,' Rintoul says. 'To begin with, we meet a character who could be white and British. He's in a foreign country, caught up in the asylum process, attempting to piece together his life. He recounts his first teenage kiss, the murder of a friend and a voyage of exile. Some of his story is imagined. Some is taken from formal interviews. By the end of the play, the context has become explicit. There's certainly some hoodwinking going on to begin with. But by the end the truth lands violently in the audience's lap.'
It sounds like an uncomfortable watch. How does Rintoul think audiences will react? 'I hope they'll see refugees as people with their own complex and very human narratives. And I hope they'll rethink how they see Iraq.'
Elegy' is at Theatre 503 from Tue Oct 9 until Nov 3.