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The Man with the Gold | Review of new play about TE Lawrence

Cockpit Theatre London, 22/01/16
Written by Jan Woolf. Directed by Philip Wilson

'But how do you bomb a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas? Guerrilla tactics are a complete muffing of air force... ' - T.E Lawrence

This year is the centenary of the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule during WW1. Jan Woolf's new play The Man With the Gold could not be more timely, with the British government at war again in the Middle  East. Never before has an understanding of the historical dynamic linking the Sykes Picot treaty at the end of WW1 to the present been so vital. 

The play's intention is to unravel the complex 'hero' it produced in T.E. Lawrence - debunking the romantic myth of Hollywood's 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

Set in the present, it centres on two archaeologists as they prepare a centenary exhibition in a  War Museum. As they unravel their own personal connections, ghosts are unwittingly summoned and the myth of Lawrence of Arabia excavated.

Poet Heathcote Williams says, "It’s terrific: witty, unusual, and timely and very watchable. Bringing Lawrence to life through the preparation for an exhibition is a riveting device. You feel he is being dug out of the desert sand in front of you to rise up like a scrap of desert mist. A wraith with a message who blasts his way into the present to deliver it."

Below, author and activist David Wilson gives his response to the performance on 22 January 2016 at London's Cockpit Theatre.


The Man and the Gold: Review by David Wilson

Last Thursday I went to a rehearsed reading of Jan Woolf's play, 'The Man With The Gold' – about T E Lawrence.

It is set in the Imperial War Museum the day before an exhibition opens of artefacts from Tafila and Deraa, in today's Jordan and Syria and where Lawrence had helped organise the Arab revolt against the Turks in the First World War.

In 1962 I had seen David Lean's 'Lawrence of Arabia' and my memory is of Peter O'Toole as Lawrence and Maurice Jarre's music.

The play's title is a reference to the gold (+ guns and ammunition) the British supplied to the Bedouin who thought they were part of the fight for Arab Independence.

In fact they were being manipulated in the Sykes/Picot carve-up of the region – oil as the motivation then as now.

Lawrence was portrayed in Lean's film as a romantic figure, but 'Al Auruns' as the Bedouin called him, was no such being - 'we killed and killed, even blowing in the heads of the fallen and the animals: as though their death and running blood could slake our agony'.

Jan's play is gripping stuff, full of political insight and humour. When it is fully staged with sets and oud music it will be stunning.

A special word of congratulation. Placing ghosts on stage along with the 'living' characters is difficult. Even Shakespeare struggled with this. But the appearance of Lawrence and the Bedouin leader, Auda Abu Tayi, works seamlessly.

A good play is just a good script without good direction and acting. That was supplied by Director Philip Wilson and actors Maggie Steed, Peter Wight, Amir El Masry, Richard Teverson, Martin Turner and Tom Syms.

I hope 'The Man With The Gold' gets to a theatre near you soon. Next performances at Oxford's St Johns on 23 September 2016 and Jesus colleges and Newark in 2017.