Review: 9 Circles, Park Theatre ★★★★★

by Chris Dobson

Seeing 9 Circles at Park Theatre is akin to watching nine short plays, all thematically linked yet distinct. The structure of the play, which is written by Bill Cain and directed by Guy Masterson, is based on Dante’s Inferno, in which the protagonist descends through the nine circles of hell. Here, the action centres around Daniel E. Reeves (Joshua Collins), a repatriated US Army Private who is accused of committing horrific war crimes in Iraq. Collins plays Reeves with a chilling intensity, and it is immediately apparent that he suffers from some form of personality disorder.

9 Circles at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Duncan Henderson’s minimalist set design is complemented by Tom Turner’s superb use of lighting and subtle music by Jack Arnold. The dialogue fizzes as Reeves interacts with various individuals: An earnest church pastor (Daniel Bowerbank), a smooth-talking lawyer (David Calvitto), a brutally honest psychiatrist (Samara Neely Cohen). All the performances (and American accents) are strong, but Collins steals the show.

9 Circles is a troubling, disturbing watch, unafraid to confront difficult issues, most notably the pointless waste of lives in the Iraq War, on both sides. More generally, the play explores how the state fails the soldiers it sends to foreign lands on orders to kill, with little mental health support provided. Yes, the context here is Americans in Iraq, but it is relevant also in a British-Afghan or Ukrainian-Russian setting. Bill Cain’s anger at the hypocrisy of those who judge participants in a war from the side-lines is palpable.

9 Circles at the Park Theatre. Photo by Mark Douet

Some might find the almost sympathetic positioning of Reeves problematic, but Collins never tries to portray him in a way which seeks to elicit compassion; 9 Circles does not strive for pity, or disgust, or any other particular emotion. Instead, it simply tries to explain that thorny topic most famously explored by Hannah Arendt in 1963: The banality of evil. In this view of the play, Reeves is a 21st century Adolf Eichmann, on trial for his own crimes but also, symbolically, standing in for the crimes of those who instigated the war.

Some scenes – or circles – are quiet, exploring topics such as the role religion can play (if any) in the rehabilitation or comforting of convicted criminals. Other scenes are loud, for instance Reeves’s court trial, which to this reviewer was reminiscent of County Hall’s Witness for the Prosecution. Running until July 23rd, 9 Circles simply has to be seen, especially if you want to better understand why some men continue to feel the need to kill and inflict harm.

9 Circles is at Park Theatre until 23 July

Chris Dobson is a freelance journalist from the North of England. He now lives in North London and is passionate about theatre, film and literature.