“9 Circles”, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022

Maggie Rose in Edinburgh
14 August 2022

Assembly is back in its stride post lockdown with the major venues in the city centre extremely active. In a small studio theatre in George Square, I caught 9 Circles, directed by Guy Masterson, an Olivier winner for Morecambe.

This is a searing indictment of the case of Private Steven Dale Green, who served in the US army in Iraq and was subsequently accused, along with four other soldiers, of raping and murdering Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and also killing her family.

On a bare stage, except for two brightly-lit circles, one on the floor, and one as a backdrop (suggesting the circles of Dante’s Hell in The Divine Comedy), nine scenes unfold in rapid succession during which the accused, who is given the fictional name of Private Daniel Edwards Reeves, remains onstage.

He encounters a drug-prescribing psychiatrist, the army-appointed defence lawyer and a priest who is intent on finding out he is sane or insane, guilty or innocent, since there is no forensic proof that he committed the crime. The priest wants ultimately to help Reeves to understand whatever has occurred.

Playwright Bill Cain, a Jesuit priest, made the following comment: “The actor is a test pilot of humanity … and we are freed by that. We don’t have to be frightened of ourselves.” While agreeing that theatre succeeds by showing us ourselves as in Hamlet’s entreaty to the players to hold “… the mirror up to nature”, I personally found the portrayal deeply unsettling.

Through his protagonist, Father Cain takes us on a journey into the darkest side of the human psyche and leaves us unsure if the young man is actually guilty or not.  Throughout, Reeves seems to be playing different roles, and even when he breaks down and confesses his guilt to the psychiatrist, begging for her help, one is left uncertain as to whether his confession is genuine.

Joshua Collins, in the part of Reeves, gives an outstandingly detailed and closely observed portrayal of this complex figure, sometimes soliciting our empathy, at other times creating a sense of revulsion.