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Robbins defends controversial play from 'terrible' reviews



Preview by Jack Foley

AN INCISIVE black comedy about the war in Iraq, as seen through the eyes of the Pentagon, opened at the Riverside Studios, in Hammersmith, this week, amid much controversy.

Embedded has been written and directed by Oscar-winning American actor, Tim Robbins, who has long been an outspoken critic of the US-led war against terror, together with his wife, Susan Sarandon.

The play drew a mixed response from US critics and is now making its London debut amid a similar ground-swell of opinion, prompting the star of films such as Mystic River and The Shawshank Redemption, to defend it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Embedded is all about the Pentagon's Prime Time War, ‘a huge, stage-managed 24-hour news event and its attempts to turn the media feeding-frenzy to its advantage’.

It delves behind-the-scenes, at the President's dark cabal of advisors, as they orchestrate the spin and convince people that it's right to tell a few 'noble lies'.

It comes to London following sell-out productions in Los Angeles and New York.

Among those extolling its virtues, in America, were School of Rock star, Jack Black, who referred to it as ‘ass kicking good’, before adding that: "I've never seen something so hilarious and so bone chillingly creepy at the same time."

While the San Francisco Chronicle described it as ‘a savagely witty, very smart, very screwball and ultimately very chilling comedy’.

But Embedded also drew its fair share of ‘terrible reviews’, such as a comment from the Associated Press, that suggested ‘finding genuine wit in Embedded is as difficult as finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’.

Such comments prompted Robbins to retort, on the BBC: "I don't believe people in the media take criticism very well. Some are reviewing it as if it's a news programme instead of a satire."

Robbins maintains that he wrote the play to examine the policy of ‘embedding’ news reporters with coalition troops during the war, prompting him to conclude that ‘we have lost our sense of what it is to have a free press in the US’.

Although he felt the English media was ‘behind’ America in that respect, he does feel it is beginning to head in the same direction, and claimed that he had ‘witnessed the kind of intimidation that the Blair government was trying to impose upon its press’.

"That is not a healthy thing for any kind of free society or democracy," he added.

Returning to the criticism surrounding the play, however, he also highlighted the fact that it played to packed audiences in both LA and New York, for the duration of its eight-month run - a feat which could well be repeated during its Hammersmith run.

The play runs until Saturday, October 23, in Studio 2, with performances each evening at 7.45pm. Tickets cost £25 (£18 concs), and there are also performances, on Saturdays, at 6pm and 8.45pm, and on Sundays, from 6pm.

For those who don’t make the stage version, Robbins has confirmed that a movie version of the play has been filmed, to be screened at next year's Venice Film Festival.

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