The Collector | A compelling tale of murder, evil and betrayal
I was fortunate enough to watch The Collector in its first run since Henry Naylor first published the play, at the Edinburgh Fringe 2014. Staged at the Gilded Balloon Teviot venue, a very similar theatre space to The Studio, it was an extremely poignant and thought-provoking performance taking the form of three inter-cut monologues with a very simple set and backdrop.
The Collector is a story about a group of guards who are running a prison out in post-war Iraq. They begin with very high-minded principles, hoping to bring liberalism to Iraq. Gradually, by responding to the insurgency, they become more and more like the people they came to replace. It’s heavily researched and based on the experiences of many real prison guards including, but certainly not limited to, some of the people who worked at Abu Ghraib. Writer, Henry Naylor (pictured right) has this to say;
“It all started when I was researching a programme I was doing for the BBC in 2001. I was writing for a radio show about the same time the war was on in Afghanistan. Obviously it’s hard to make that subject funny so I was watching the media intensely for any angles that I could use to write jokes. I was watching every news report and it dawned on me that they never showed any dead bodies.
There was a war being committed in the country’s name but we were being shielded from the consequences of it. I looked into it and found that the BBC had this taste and decency policy not to show any of the victims of the war. Supposedly it was out of respect to the dead but I thought that it was indecent. I felt that it was disregarding the horrors of the war. It felt very immoral, like they were sanitizing the truth.
This idea that journalists have to sanitize the truth for public consumption gave me the idea for a comedy play called Finding Bin Laden. While I was working on that, there was this extraordinary incident on TV that involved a BBC journalist, called William Reid, who was reporting from Kabul just before the Northern Alliance swept into the city. He was saying “the forces are getting close. I don’t know if you can hear outside but there’re a lot of explosions going off…and oh…that was really quite close”. Then – live on air – he was blown off his feet. Already it was the most confronting thing I’d ever seen on television. Then what happened was my old flat mate ran in front of the camera yelling “Jesus Christ”. I was completely bewildered. It turned out my old flat mate, who I’d lost touch with, had become a cameraman for the BBC and he was out there reporting on the war.
I got in touch with him after the invasion ended and told him about what I was writing. I said that I wanted to get my facts straight and get past the media’s representation of events. So he helped me organize things and I went out and spent 10 days in Afghanistan. It completely changed my life. Up until that point I had been a satirical writer sat at my desk at home sneering about events on the news. Actually living in a news event first hand transformed my writing. We went round refugee camps, saw landmine victims and got a real idea of the damage the war had done. From that moment I’ve been obsessed with the conflict in the Middle East. Every time something happens in the news I’m following it. I take cuttings out of the papers and keep them in a great big stack. It’s become the thing that I write about and it’s changed how I write. I still try to make things entertaining, but without trivializing it. I want to tell people what’s going on.”
The Collector will be performed in The Courtyard’s Studio Theatre on Wednesday 28 September, 7.30pm.