It’s been ten years since Iraq was invaded by the coalition of the willing – an invasion that Australia was part of. And for many of us, the shame of being an aggressor is something we have all since held on to; whether or not we’ve been directly affected by the war, we’ve all been touched by it. Actress Eugenia Fragos is an Australian who feels a deep sense of shame because of Australia’s actions some ten years ago.
That shame is something she has brought to her role in the play Palace of the End, on now at Theatre Works. This month sees Judith Thompson’s critically acclaimed play – a trio of monologues that tell the stories of three people forever impacted by the war in Iraq.
Eugenia plays Nehrjas al Saffarh, a well-known member of the Communist Party of Iraq and mother of four. al Saffarh was tortured by Saddam Hussein's secret police in the 1970s, and died when Americans bombed her home during the first Gulf War.
"It's a story of a left-wing woman, and I think we are also at a time when we are a bit politically lost because of the failures of the left ... it's good to be reminded that there were people who really did believe in these ideals and were prepared to fight to the death and put their own lives on the line for the greater good so hers is one of those stories."
For her research into this role - which is one of the many things Eugenia loves about her career choice; research into a role, the education 'feeds her character' – she went along to a talk entitled 'The Iraq War: Discussing social responsibility'. One of the speakers there, Michael Leunig, touched Eugenia with his words, making her feel ashamed for her role, as an Australian, in the Iraq war.
"He said this really interesting thing, that when that force of militarism is unleashed there is also a bloodlust that is released, and he could not fathom why we as a nation were going to invade this other country," she says. But what stood out for Eugenia was when he said that in that moment he lost his Australian identity, and hasn't regained it, and feels as though he doesn't belong here anymore. "I want to take that feeling through into this play; to remind people that Australia was part of that."
The first of the three monologues is titled 'My Pyramids', and is inspired by the media circus around Lynndie England, the US soldier who was convicted of abusing detainees at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison.
'Harrowdown Hill', the second monologue is drawn from the well-publicised events surrounding the death of the British weapons inspector David Kelly, who allegedly committed suicide after being involved in a government scandal.
Then there’s the story of al Saffarh in the piece entitled 'Instruments of the Yearning'.
Directed by Theatre Works Creative Producer Daniel Clarke, Palace of the End also stars Hannah Norris and Robert Meldrum.