The Sunday Telegraph
Bomb Blasts, Carnage and Gore
3 September 2006
Edmund White's new play, Terre Haute, shown at The Assembly Rooms, is inspired by the correspondence between Gore Vidal, the author and patrician thorn in the side of the American establishment, and Timothy McVeigh, the 'Oklahoma bomber' executed by lethal injection in 2001 for blowing up a truck bomb outside a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995. White imagines a meeting between the two men as one of the most bizarre first dates in history, never mind that Harrison (the McVeigh character) is so repulsed by the thought of gay sex that he may, as James (the Vidal character) suggests, prefer the death penalty to becoming "some brute's bitch" in Terre Haute prison.
Nothing is over-stated in White's beautifully written, fluidly paced play, which probes the parallels between war and terror, and examines questions of manhood. When James asks about the children killed in the bombing, Harrison, who fought in the Gulf, describes them as 'collateral damage'. His mirror of manhood is an idealised soldier - a man of honour and principle. He is not afraid of death, his only concern being to die nobly. James, who agrees with many of Harrison's anti-government views, describes his story as 'almost Aristotelian in its tragic purity'.
Harrison/McVeigh as tragic hero? It's hard to know if James, whose interviewing technique includes flattery thinks this tenable from any but a literary standpoint. What is clear is his moral fury at Harrison's tragic flaw: putting principles above human lives.
As James, Peter Eyre is suavely masterful, his voice coating his pain and loneliness in a kind of upper-class honey. In an orange prison jumpsuit, Arthur Darvill looks spookily like McVeigh and gives a fearless performance, intercutting the army-boy politeness with outbursts of aggression. A riveting 70 minutes.