It was all over in seconds.
Three Irish Republican Army terrorists, one of them a woman, were shot dead by the U.K. army’s undercover SAS unit on March 6, 1988 in British territory at the southern tip of Spain.
“Gibraltar,” Alastair Brett’s new play at London’s Arcola Theatre, tries to unravel events. It says that truth in news reports often gets caught “between a rock and a hard place.”
The result is a sporadically inspired and often clunky, part fact, part fiction account of the “shoot to kill” deaths of Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann.
Initially, the London media were told that they had guns, refused to surrender, and were setting off a remote-control bomb to kill guards during a weekly ceremony at the governor’s house.
Brett reminds us that the three were unarmed and had little chance of giving themselves up. The attack wasn’t imminent: They had been preparing explosives stored more than 60 kilometers away, and the timers operated with a 12-hour lag.
Still, given half a chance, the “Gibraltar Three” would have been killers themselves. It’s hard to feel sympathy for them. Brett, a former London Times legal adviser (and co-writer with Sian Evans), instead casts the actors as witnesses trying to remember what happened, and journalists chasing after facts.
Nick, a veteran broadsheet reporter -- played with tousled understatement by George Irving -- says his tabloid colleagues happily make up quotes. He then cries, “I didn’t write that, I was subbed,” when his own report is rewritten by an editor.
Nick probes links with IRA drug smuggling, and visits Tommy (Billy McColl), a cardboard-cutout Costa-de-Crime delinquent.
He is beaten to a scoop by young TV producer Amelia (Greer Dale-Foulkes). Amelia makes a documentary titled “Ambush,” only to realize that her source is an unreliable onlooker, Rosa (played by Karina Fernandez, who outshines the other three.)
This mirrors real life. Thames TV’s “Death on the Rock” relied on a witness, Carmen Proetta, who was vilified by the British media.
While we’re told that the court and parliamentary statements in the play are based on transcripts, it’s not always clear what’s real and what’s imagined. James Robert Carson’s stripped-down production gets confusing when the actors double up as barristers or jury members. Rating: **.
Until April 20 at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL. Information: +44-20-7503-1646; http://arcolatheatre.com.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Mediocre (No stars) Poor
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars, Rich Jaroslovsky on tech and Lance Esplund on U.S. art shows.