Reviews from Assembly Festival run, Aug 3 - 29, 2022
UK Theatre Web 14/08/22
A powerful and moving play with tight, pacy direction from an extremely professional team. Through the discharge, trial and eventual execution of one soldier, with no empathy for those he kills, and who raped and shot innocent civilians we get a view of war that is deeply uncomfortable. Whilst he admits to the actions, his discharge was "honourable" to hide the crime, his recruitment was flawed (it required a Morals Waiver), he was shopped by his colleagues to save their own skins and he was scapegoated to assuage the guilt of those who sent him to war. As we accompany him on his journey through the 9 circles we question many aspects of society, soldiers and war itself. As is said in the play, if we empathise with those we kill how can war continue? Thought provoking.
UK Theatre Network 14/08/22 (Clare Brotherwood)
Joshua Collins should win an award for his portrayal of a US soldier with an anti-social personality disorder in this powerful and disturbing play which looks at the consequences of war.
It has already won American playwright Bill Cain (who also wrote the TV series House of Cards and Bloodline and is, incidentally, a Jesuit priest) the Steinberg Award, but Collins’ performance is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
The play is based on the true story of a US Army private, Stephen Dale Green, who went on the rampage in Iraq, committing war atrocities, and was subsequently sentenced to execution back in the USA.
In Cain’s play Collins plays Private Daniel Edward Reeves who, aged just 19, has admitted killing an Iraqi family and being party to raping, setting fire and then killing a 14-year-old girl.
Trained as a killing machine he feels nothing, but when he is questioned about throwing a dog off a roof, feelings of anger and shame come to the fore.
From the moment he stepped on stage I could feel the violence within him; he was like a coiled spring, ready to strike at the slightest provocation. I was sitting in the second row but I felt intimidated, even nervous at such close proximity. His threatening presence was just too big for the venue.
Tightly directed by the multi-award-winning Guy Masterson, whose productions I always head for each Fringe, the play questions the hypocrisies of war, and if Reeves really was to blame seeing as the army put weapons into the hands of a clinically disturbed 19-year-old.
Collins is only one of four actors who all give impressive performances: David Calvitto as the straight talking, fast talking army attorney and defense lawyer; Samar Neely Cohen as the public defender, army shrink and prosecutor, and I particularly liked Daniel Bowerbank’s moving scene as the prison pastor trying to help Reeves; yet another occasion when pent-up emotions really let rip.
This is a must see production, but be warned, it’s not an easy ride.
OUTSTANDING SHOW (unstarred) FringeReview 11/08/22 (Annie Loui)
A taut psychological thriller seeks justice from the collision of morality and empathy. European Premiere from multi-award winning House Of Cards writer Bill Cain, directed by Olivier winner Guy Masterson (Morecambe, The Shark Is Broken), starring Joshua Collins, Samara Neely Cohen, Daniel Bowerbank, and Fringe favourite, Stage Award and multiple Fringe First winner, David Calvitto.
A young soldier wants to kill everyone- House of Cards writer Bill Cain creates a powerful psychological examination of a young Texan soldier in Iraq gone wrong. Discharged from service against his will, he creates “a war of one” and continues a vicious attack on “the enemy”. Without giving too much away, I will say that the context of war, and the subsequent examination of morality and justification is the crux of this excellent play. Reasoning with complete conviction and belligerent intelligence the soldier, played by the excellent Joshua Collins, explains that he is upholding his oath to kill the enemy and defend his country. Through conversations with lawyers, a psychiatrist, and a chaplain on his way through the system of conviction and imprisonment, a remorseless soldier reveals his inner-demons, and we are left shaken and chilled.
Cain has taken a true story about war- time atrocities in 2006, and torqued it slightly to make a complex and effective anti-war statement that is cleverly argued and achingly sad. A military lawyer lets Daniel know that he has scared “them”. “Them” being the jaded heads of state who are so shocked by the extreme brutality of the soldier’s actions that they have empathy for the enemy. The lawyer wants to capitalize on this empathy and use Daniel’s desire for heroism to make him a public example of why this war should end.
Astute, political and personal, the circles of this soldier’s defenses are progressively peeled away to demonstrate his own personal hell. By the end, the audience is in rapt attention, and leaves the theater to a disturbing soundtrack of Ukranian music. The point is forced home.
Dramatic and powerful, and delivered at an unrelenting pace, 9 Circles is a tour de force for the excellent Joshua Collins playing the Texan soldier, with strong support from Samara Neely Cohen, Daniel Bowerbank and the transformative David Calvitto playing multiple roles. Skillfully directed and produced by Guy Masterson. This is an Outstanding production. The complexities of empathy in the story have led previous reviewers to criticize the play for being too empathetic to the solider. I found this hour-long play of highly charged argument an extremely effective anti-war vehicle. It is not a surprise that the writer is a Jesuit, observing morality from all sides, and referencing classic medieval concepts of hell to give us a structural and moral framework by which to examine this damaged human. Provocative and unforgettable. Despite the brutal subject matter, it is impossible for attention to flag.
Broadway Baby 24/08/22 (Richard Beck)
From House of Cards writer Bill Cain and The Shark is Broken director Guy Masterson, 9 Circles is a brilliantly performed, harrowing psychological thriller that would be shocking as a work of fiction.That it is based on the real-life story of Steven Dale Green, a repatriated US Army Private accused of war crimes, makes it all the more shocking and distressing.
A brilliantly performed harrowing psychological thriller
Conceptually based on Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell, Private Daniel Reeves (Joshua Collins) is a conscript to the army who would never have passed the normal entry requirements given his previous convictions in his home town of Midland Texas, but the US is desperate for soldiers to serve in Iraq. Military training has successfully turned this teenager from the middle of nowhere into a coldblooded killing machine with unquestioning devotion to his oath of allegiance. For him, everyone is the enemy and he would kill them all if he had his way, including civilian men, women and children. Any sense of humanity, morality, and right and wrong with which he entered into service has been rapidly eroded. Now he finds himself facing discharge from the company to which he is devoted and subsequently a trial for a string of appalling war crimes that he can hardly comprehend. He is trapped in the progression of circles that will determine his ultimate fate.
Collins gives a stunning, tightly focussed performance. He captures the militarily drilled persona of Reeves, a young man in an alien world that he barely understands, given to simplistic interpretations of circumstances; handling them with no-nonsense if often misguided directness. “A personality disorder can be an advantage in certain circumstances”, he says. But while it might provide some insight into the awkward logic he espouses it won’t be enough to save him, despite the efforts of others. Daniel Bowerbank appears with militaristic precision as the Lieutenant who sets the scene for what is to follow and later appears as the Pastor who out of his own troubled past attempts to bring comfort and salvation to Reeves. Samara Neely Cohen as the Female Lawyer, Shrink and Prosecution creates three distinct roles that illustrate some of the forces that come to bear on Reeves; the stern, the sympathetic and the aggressive. Completing the cast, David Calvitto gives two equally impassioned performances in which he encapsulates the legal mind and the manner of traditional courtroom delivery as the Army Attorney and Civilian Lawyer. Between them, they highlight the conundrums, contradictions and hypocrisies of war.
Credit has to be given to the rest of the team: Set Design by Duncan Henderson; Lighting design by Tom Turner; Sound & Composition by Jack Arnold and Movement by Mark Baldwin OBE. Between them, they provide the setting for 9 Circles which is stunning in its haunting simplicity. A mood of inescapable impending tragedy is created as Reeves is encircled in rings of light that trap him as certainly as the events themselves.
Although we are reminded many times of the brutally mortal acts Reeves committed, seen through his eyes it’s difficult not to feel a degree of sympathy for the boy who left life in the desert oilfields of Texas to greet death in the desert oilfields of Iraq.
Voice Magazine 14/08/22 (Jack Salloway)
If you only see one play this fringe, make it 9 Circles by House of Cards writer Bill Cain. Named after the rings of hell in Dante’s Inferno, Cain’s play about one man’s war crimes in Iraq is a hellhole of injustice based on the real-life case of US serviceman Steve Dale Green. Private Reeves, our protagonist, is on trial for murdering a family and raping their 14-year-old daughter while serving in Iraq. It's a heavy play that asks us to look horror in the face.
Cain's script deftly unpicks the moral fibre of a nation too squeamish to face the injustices carried out on foreign soil in the name of freedom. Execution of civilians and rape count among the sins committed by Reeves. His crimes are documented and he is convicted and condemned to death. Even Private Reeves himself, brilliantly played by Joshua Collins (easily the best individual performance I’ve seen this year), wants to plead guilty in a court of law. A death wish, his lawyer informs him, adding that if he pleads guilty the US military will escape accountability for its institutional failings. We're also reminded that lethal injections aren't administered by doctors, who have taken an oath to do no harm, but by amateurs likely to botch the job. If the needle goes into the muscle by accident, Reeves' death will be painful and the mind will experience it consciously.
The metaphor is clear: this type of waking torture is purgatory. Perhaps it is one he deserves. Reeve’s experience in jail, his inability to articulate the neglect of the US military, the criminal justice system at large, the trials he must undergo, everything feeds into the central theme of justice, moral obligation, and redemption. Cain has written a incredibly lean, athletic script that flexes, boxes and vaults, without an inch of fat on it. Watching 9 Circles feels less like a court room drama and more like nine bouts in the ring. Dexterous, witty, unbearably upsetting, it’s an exhilarating experience that runs the gamut of emotion.
Is a condemned man who committed irredeemable acts of violence beyond redemption? Yes, I think so. But the play poses a more nuanced question, which asks whether he still serves a purpose. In many ways, this is more important than one man’s salvation - perhaps his punishment can save lives. The biblical parallels between Reeves and the crucifixion have a beautiful, inverted sense of irony to them. Bad press for the war effort has Washington scrambling for a scapegoat as public opinion of the war wanes. His crimes were so cruel he makes the public ‘feel the pain of the enemy.’ It’s a high-wire act the cast must perform, balancing an argument on the edge of humanity. The ensemble is brilliant; their performance never loses sight of the heart of the play, which is its radical empathy.
Above the stage a huge neon circle pulses red and white. There’s a grace to the otherwise sparse, set-less choreography. Olivier-winning Guy Masterson’s direction is first rate. Costumes and locations quick-change between (and within) individual scenes as we flash backward and forward in the story. The drama never loses pace or tension, which only seems to gain momentum as the play approaches the final act. We know we only have so many circles to pass through and our anticipation as we count down to the ninth is rewarded with a phenomenal, haunting finale.
9 Circles is exceptional, a hell-harrowing piece of modern political theatre. Cain has written a court room drama of biblical proportion that plays devil’s advocate to real-life events with its superb cast of characters, from lawyer to preacher, solider and psychologist. Law, morality, religion, war, mental health. The themes are perfectly compact in the dialogue without feeling overwrought. Plot is king. There’s so much to unpack, it’s impossible to take it all in in one sitting. I was absolutely blown away.
North West End 16/08/22 (Greg Holstead)
To a comfortable lecture theatre of Edinburgh University, comes the uncomfortable truths of war, and war crimes, orchestrated under the very capable hands of Director, Guy Masterson.
The 9 circles, refers to the nine rings of Dante’s Inferno. The interesting set and lighting design features a five metre wide light ring on the floor and a similar large light ring behind the stage. Rings that the central character can never escape, perhaps representing the truth of the past and the punishment of the future.
The play is based on the true story of Texan Stephen Dale Green, a US army private who went on a rampage in Iraq, murdering an Iraqi family and raping then burning the 14 year old daughter. Playwright, Bill Cain, explores the justifications for Green’s actions through the nine circles of hell, firstly in Iraq, then to a cell awaiting trial a year later in the USA, and on through another seven circles to his final, inevitable, destination.
Reeves, played brilliantly by Joshua Collins, asks, quite reasonably, ‘ How can what happened over there, make me a criminal over here? Given that the US army turned Reeves into a killing machine, we are asked to consider, who ultimately is responsible: is it the recruiting Sergeant who lowered the bar to let the troubled individual Reeves in to make up numbers? Or is it the military training? Or the lack of psychological support at the front line? Or perhaps the blame should be laid right at the top, ‘George W. the other fuck up from Texas’?
Along the course of play we are asked to question war itself and nationhood. As Reeves intones, ‘whatever’s left after the killing stops – that’s the nation’.
After watching this raw and gritty and troubling production, I exit into the bright sunlight of mid-afternoon George Square, I feel altered, I need to be de-compressed. That speaks of good theatre in my book.
Masterson, a stalwart of the Edinburgh Fringe for over twenty years and Scotsman Fringe First winner on five previous occasions, must surely be in the running again with this masterpiece.
Get Your Coats On 12/08/22 (Dan Lentell)
Guy Masterson’s done it again. He’s promised something BIG and he’s delivered. In these pages I’ve described Guy as “The First Knight of The Fringe”. In many ways Guy IS the Fringe. A veteran of coming on for thirty Augusts, in good times and bad, he’s brought with him to Edinburgh shows that set the standard by which all other Fringe theatre is measured. Guy’s got one of the best eyes in the business for scripts, for talent, and for design. He can take 2 and 2 and make 10, but give him 5 and 5 and he’ll make something even greater still. This year he’s got a strong script, an even stronger cast, flawless production values, and an hour’s worth of stage traffic that goes deep and dark.
We enter to find not 9 circles but 2, one on stage, the other framing the drama from behind. Rings of LED lighting in each help to capture and distil the distressing and unpalatable truths we’re about to mishandle. Here is the story, based on real events, of a young American soldier facing the consequences for a wartime atrocity that he may, or may not, have committed. The System that under-educated him, under-employed him, and which took him into the army despite his being morally suspect from day 1 – that same The System is now going to determine whether he lives or dies, is guilty or not guilty of the appalling crime of which he is accused.
As Private Daniel E Reeves, Joshua Collins is an enigmatic ball of furious energy sparking dangerously off officialdom’s procession of army lawyers, federal prosecutors, and even a reverend pastor. Collins’ humanizes his monster so successfully we momentarily find ourselves forgetting what his character is accused of – the rape and murder of a chid, the destruction of her family. One crime in an ocean of wartime guilt. Is it right to focus exclusively on the perpetrator instead of the victim? That’s one of several tough questions not to be raised round the family dinner table in Morningside after you leave the show.
Collins’ performance sets him out as one to watch in the coming years, especially when he’s working with actors of the calibre of his current co-stars Samara Neely Cohen, Daniel Bowerbank, and David Calvitto. Bowerbank is flawless. Neely Cohen nearly steals the show. Calvitto – despite a few minor early-in-the-run slips with the heavily redacted script – brings that precision of bearing that makes him such a Fringe favourite. The three best and most successful casts in Edinburgh right now are Sir John Steell’s ‘Alexander and Bucephalus’ (outside the City Chambers on the Royal Mile); Steell’s rearing equestrian statue of The Duke of Wellington (outside Register House on Princes’ St); and the cast of Guy Masterson’s ‘9 Circles’ which fully deserves the big crowds it’s already drawing in.
OUTSTANDING! (Unstarred) Plays International 14/08/22 (Maggie Rose)
Assembly is back in its stride post lockdown with the major venues in the city centre extremely active. In a small studio theatre in George Square, I caught 9 Circles, directed by Guy Masterson, an Olivier winner for Morecambe.
This is a searing indictment of the case of Private Steven Dale Green, who served in the US army in Iraq and was subsequently accused, along with four other soldiers, of raping and murdering Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl, and also killing her family.
On a bare stage, except for two brightly-lit circles, one on the floor, and one as a backdrop (suggesting the circles of Dante’s Hell in The Divine Comedy), nine scenes unfold in rapid succession during which the accused, who is given the fictional name of Private Daniel Edwards Reeves, remains onstage.
He encounters a drug-prescribing psychiatrist, the army-appointed defence lawyer and a priest who is intent on finding out he is sane or insane, guilty or innocent, since there is no forensic proof that he committed the crime. The priest wants ultimately to help Reeves to understand whatever has occurred.
Playwright Bill Cain, a Jesuit priest, made the following comment: “The actor is a test pilot of humanity … and we are freed by that. We don’t have to be frightened of ourselves.” While agreeing that theatre succeeds by showing us ourselves as in Hamlet’s entreaty to the players to hold “… the mirror up to nature”, I personally found the portrayal deeply unsettling.
Through his protagonist, Father Cain takes us on a journey into the darkest side of the human psyche and leaves us unsure if the young man is actually guilty or not. Throughout, Reeves seems to be playing different roles, and even when he breaks down and confesses his guilt to the psychiatrist, begging for her help, one is left uncertain as to whether his confession is genuine.
Joshua Collins, in the part of Reeves, gives an outstandingly detailed and closely observed portrayal of this complex figure, sometimes soliciting our empathy, at other times creating a sense of revulsion.
TheatreandArtReviews.com 25/08/22 (outthere71)
9 Circles by Bill Cain. – Theatre, Films and Art reviews
What happens when a US Private goes rogue in Iraq? How do the Government and Army respond to disciplinary action? Character names have been changed as the storyline appears to have been based on the real-life trial of Steven Dale Green.
Private Daniel Reeves (Joshua Collins) commits the most heinous crimes while serving for his country during the Iraq war. While on trial in the US he questions why should be on trial in America for the crimes committed on foreign soil. In principle the question is reasonable, yet these acts should never go unpunished.
Training the perfect soldier who views shooting the enemy as much a part of his job as he would putting on his boots. Inevitably risks installing a mindset that can lose sight of rational thinking and crosses humanity’s boundaries.
9 Circles has been separated into nine sections examining all the events one step at a time that lead to the why what and how he has ended up in this situation and is facing the death penalty.
Placing the storyline in the structure of Dantes 9 circles of hell turns out to be a clever device. Two large circles dominate the stage one for the cast to perform in and the other to add light from behind. By the time you too have experienced verbally the events that took place in Iraq through the sixty-five-minute performance. It leaves you feeling that you have had a short trip to the circles of hell.
Although a powerful, hard-hitting and unnerving storyline the entire cast delivers exceptional performances which will leave a lasting impression and are an absolute credit to director Guy Masterson.
Daily Mail 19/08/22 (Patrick Marmion)
Nine Circles is one of the best performances on the Fringe, but it's also one of the most harrowing.
It's about a Texan GI in Iraq facing the death penalty for horrendous war crimes — because he insists on pleading guilty.
The point of Bill Cain's drama, tautly directed by Guy Masterson, is to illustrate the disturbed logic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and also raise questions about moral responsibilities in war.
A game of cat and mouse in which the GI toys with those trying to help him, does not end well. How its star, Joshua Collins, puts himself through this every day is beyond me.
The Scotsman 24/08/22 Joyce McMillan
As the war in Ukraine grinds on, with all its atrocities and pain, it’s perhaps time, once again, to look back at the west’s recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to reflect on what we might have learned from them. Bill Cain’s 9 Circles, playing at George Square Studios in a taut and absorbing production by Guy Masterson, follows the journey through nine of circles of hell of a young US serviceman, Daniel Edward Reeves, who is discharged from the army which is his life, and eventually put on trial in the USA, for allegedly running amok in Iraq, and raping and murdering a desperate teenage girl, after killing her whole family.
It is a terrible story; and as Reeves moves through years of hell, passed from lawyer to lawyer, first in denial then swept by waves of self-disgust, betrayed by former comrades, and finally confronted with the ultimate horror of execution by injection, it’s part of Cain’s skill to keep the fact of his crime firmly in focus, along with his own suffering.
On a simple but powerful circular set by Duncan Henderson, lit by Tom Turner, Joshua Collins delivers a superb performance as Reeves, constantly in the spotlight, and undergoing a journey for which he seems desperately ill-equipped. He receives powerful support from David Calvitto and Daniel Bowerbank in a range of army and prison roles; and if the nine circles may seem one too many, for those unconvinced that anything but oblivion lies beyond Reeves’s painful death, this remains a powerful and well-crafted play about the damage war inflicts both on victims, and on those charged by the state to commit acts of violence, as their daily work.
Scottish Field 08/08/22 (Jeremy Welch)
THE title is structured around the nine rings of Dante’s Inferno. Watching this gritty, hard hitting, and at times raw and troubling production leaves you rattled. That’s good theatre in my book.
The play is based on a US serviceman called Steve Dale Green who, while serving in Iraq, was party to the murder of an Iraqi family and the rape of their 14-year-old daughter. The playwright, Bill Cain, takes the protagonist, Private Reeves, through the nine circles to hell, firstly from Iraqi then to a holding cell awaiting trial and through the remaining seven rings to his final destination after conviction and subsequent execution.
Throughout the circles to hell, we are introduced to those that may want to assist Reeve in his understanding of what he has done and ultimately whether he is responsible for his actions or others. These characters range from a drug-prescribing psychiatrist, an alarmingly-troubled pastor, an army-appointed lawyer, and ultimately the defence and prosecution summations. It is not clear if these characters are actual or figments of Reeves fevered imagination. It’s all excellent stuff.
The script, as you would expect from Cain, is tight and each word has been used to maximum effect, there is no flab whatsoever. The acting is electric.
The questions raised in the play are clear but unanswerable. In training, we strip recruits to the baseness of humanity to make them effective in a war zone, so how we then we surprised that the same baseness can sometime result in utter undiluted brutality?
Who ultimately is responsible for that baseness? The recruiting sergeant that lowered the admission standards to let an already troubled individual, Reeves, sign up to fight as numbers need to be made up? Is it the training? The structure of the military? Are politicians responsible or the plebiscite that elects these politicians to positions of power?
There is no attempt to answer these questions and neither should there be, as they are questions with no clear answers. It is clear though that, until we find answers to those questions, there are no winners in war, not the Iraqi family, their daughter, and neither Reeves himself.
If this play leaves you debating, arguing, fulminating, or exhausted then it has done its job. For me it did all four – that’s a mark of wonderful drama.
Liam O’Dell Blog 09/08/22
9 Circles is a character study in need of more time, which feels weird given its framing around Dante’s Inferno and the nine levels of Hell. Ultimately, however, its commentary on the role of soldiers and war is buried just as deep.
It follows the case of Texas soldier Daniel Reeves (acted with astonishing and unpredictable emotion from Joshua Collins) as he stands accused of raping and murdering a young girl in Iraq. The nine circles pertain to the nine moments or encounters instrumental in his judgment over the alleged crime. Each transition is gorgeously lit in the circular set and lighting from Duncan Henderson and Tom Turner respectively.
Cramming nine circles into a 65-minute running time means there isn’t much time to make cutting political points beyond war being bad, Iraq being a mistake and the US military doing a pretty terrible job of looking after the mental health of its soldiers. If those are its answer to the question of how Reeves descended to such a level of depravity, then it’s hardly original.
While Reeves would protest against spending any longer in his hellish predicament, 9 Circles is in desperate need of more time in order to offer up a more substantial argument beyond what we already know. We’ve spent some time with Daniel in nine levels, we don’t need to go round and round in circles on a subject as deep and heavy as international conflicts.
The List 24/08/22 Rachel Cronin
The hell of warfare is explored through a despicable act perpetrated in Iraq by a US solider
An uncomfortable retelling of a horrifying crime that transformed American public opinion on the Iraq war, House Of Cards writer Bill Cain combines efforts with Olivier-winning director Guy Masterson to deliver a desperately complex play. 9 Circles (referencing Dante’s Inferno) frames this nightmarish deed perpetrated by a deeply disturbed US soldier; perhaps, though, with too much empathy.
This psychological thriller is loosely based on the criminal trial of Steven Dale Green, who murdered an Iraqi family and raped their 14-year-old daughter in 2006. Joshua Collins’ performance as Daniel Reeves (a renamed Green) is harsh and believable. He flawlessly executes the difficult task of convincing an audience to doubt his character’s version of events, all the while stringing us along with just enough emotional response to rise some sympathy out of us.
However, the piece as a whole doesn’t seem to know where it stands on the complexities and atrocities of warfare. The play seems to criticise the seemingly mindless violence behind conflict and simultaneously over-sympathises with Reeves. The Iraqi murder and rape victims are essentially ignored and end up as an afterthought. 9 Circles is a deep-dive into a troubled male psyche that ends up skating worryingly close to excusing terrible violence.
Time Out 12/08/22 (Chiara Wilkinson)
A hard-hitting psychological play directed by Guy Masterson
This is the European premiere of ‘9 Circles’, by ‘House Of Cards’ writer Bill Cain and ‘The Shark Is Broken’ director Guy Masterson. Intense, inquisitive, and often extremely hard to watch, it’s a brilliantly acted story following a convicted war criminal during the US and Iraq conflict – but at times, it all feels too much.
Stubborn 19-year-old Texas soldier Daniel Reeves Joshua Collins) was accused of brutally killing a family in Iraq, before raping and murdering a young girl and setting fire to her body. It’s heavy stuff. Reeves had to get a moral waiver to enrol in the army in the first place, and it becomes clear that he’s aggressive in nature and mentally disturbed.
As he awaits his fate, we meet lawyers, a minister, and a war psychiatrist, and another narrative emerges. ‘I don’t think it’s a war, it’s just violence,’ the psychiatrist admits. Who was really responsible for the crime: Reeves, or the politicians who sent him to war? How can men be trained to ruthlessly kill on behalf of their country, but still be expected to retain any degree of morality, or even sanity?
Two red-lit circles frame the stage, trapping the characters in the trauma and echoing the play’s structure, which follows Dante’s nine circles of hell. It’s pretty appropriate imagery: the characters are jarring and the story is deeply disturbing, especially when you learn it’s based on real-life events.
Some of the scenes feel rushed while others seemed to drag on without making any real points. It also becomes impossible to feel any sympathy for Reeves, despite the possibility that the events could all be a product of his tormented mind. We’re not given enough space to breathe or really process the crime, making it all the more difficult for the story to find a balance with its political message.
In the finale, Reeves grapples with his consuming guilt in the last moments of his life. But it’s too long and strung-out to have any resonating final effect, and there’s something troubling about the way it treats the words of his victim. Despite some incredible acting, this unsettling story needs a bit of editing and a shed more sympathy for its desired message to properly shine through.
9 Circles Audience Reviews
James Gordon (24/08/22)
A complex, nuanced script, posing big questions, superbly acted and directed, with a strikingly austere set comprising two brightly lit circles which imprison the central character but not those around him. I can’t remember the details of who inhabits which circle of Dante’s hell, nor are they explicitly referenced; this play works on its own terms. Several reviewers have called it anti-war, which it is, but it is also anti-death penalty and anti-everything that put an intelligent, strong-willed but ill-educated and maladjusted young man in a position where he could rape and murder at will and believe these actions to be acceptable. Although the atrocities he committed are referenced repeatedly, with no attempt to lessen their heinousness, he comes alarmingly close to being one more victim in a world without heroes, most of all in the final scene - an astonishing performance which is painful to watch. Don’t reckon to dash away from this and go straight into another show – it needs time to assimilate, think it through and recover.
An intense, gripping story that explores the very core of what is right and what is wrong. Superb acting all round, including the last-minute stand-in (for one of the cast who was unable to perform)!
Fiona Smith (20/08/22)
Great acting. Really engaging.
Aviva Goldstein (20/08/22)
This was a superb play and outstanding performances, most impressively by the lead who dropped into the show a few days ago when the original lead could not perform. Even holding an ipad of the script, he is an extraordinary actor.
Ken Lewis (18/08/22)
Thought provoking, excellent writing and acting. Would highly recommend.
M Rachel Edmond (18/08/22)
To the person who wrote this play - why did you fail to include a trigger warning???? To anyone considering going to see this show who is struggling with mental health problems please take care
Resolve Productions (16/08/22)
Thought-provoking, engaging, powerful, and intense. 9 Circles examines the military and war with a critical eye, a dose of humour, and a lot of insight. This is a story which asks big questions, who is really at fault in an environment that not only fosters violence, but requires it? And what does accountability look like when the military industrial complex is untouchable?
Jennifer Newlands (13/08/22)
Superb acting. Emotive story and very thought provoking. One of our top picks of the fringe this year
Kirsty Davies (12/08/22)
I’ll be honest, prior to this week I didn’t think theatre drama was my thing, I was attending the festival purely for the comedy. But while browsing through the programme the description for this caught my eye, so I thought I would give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Incredible, thought provoking performance. This has definitely converted me.
James Doherty (11/08/22)
Incredibly thought provoking and unexpected. The lead actor was INCREDIBLE. The production has just the right amount of minimalism in set, props, and outfits to feel as though nothing was missing. Really excellent show!
Just WoW. 5 stars. A powerful hard hitting 65 minutes of thought provoking drama. With superb writing, direction and acting combined to produce an excellent performance.
Based on a true story this is more than just about the war criminal and his victim. This is more than just the one dimensional news pieces you see or read about on TV or the internet.
You will definitely come away talking about it and questioning your perspective, thoughts and judgements!!
Caroline Coles (09/08/22)
5 stars . Stunning . Incisive exam of huge issue what war and under privilege does to people. Emotional
Steven Smith (08/08/22)
Engaging production with a great performance from the lead and really thought-provoking content.
Michael Gray (07/08/22)
Powerful play with excellent acting by all. After seeing 24 shows one of the best.
Linda Hardman (06/08/22)
Stunning performances especially Josh, great writing great direction… best hard hitting drama at the fringe this year.
Bertie’s Mum (04/08/22)
Definitely 5*! Superb acting by whole cast. Not an easy watch, very much on subject of the pity of war but if serious drama your thing this might be best of this year’s offerings.
UK Theatre Web 14/08/22
UK Theatre Network 14/08/22 (Clare Brotherwood)
Broadway Baby 24/08/22 (Richard Beck)
Voice Magazine 14/08/22 (Jack Salloway)
North West End 16/08/22 (Greg Holstead)
Get Your Coats On 12/08/22 (Dan Lentell)
OUTSTANDING! (Unstarred) Plays International 14/08/22 (Maggie Rose)
OUTSTANDING SHOW! (unstarred) FringeReview 11/08/22 (Annie Loui)
Scottish Field 08/08/22 (Jeremy Welch)
The Scotsman 24/08/22 Joyce McMillan
Scotland on Sunday 28/08/22 Joyce McMillan
Daily Mail 19/08/22 (Patrick Marmion)
TheatreandArtReviews.com 25/08/22 (outthere71)
Reviews from Park Theatre run, July 1 - 23, 2022
The Understudy - bit.ly/9CUnderstudy
Theatre Weekly - bit.ly/9CTheatreWeekly ‘An exceptionally good play. An unmissable piece of theatre.’
Lost in Theatreland bit.ly/9CLostinTheatre ‘Keeps the audience entirely gripped throughout.’
WhatsOnStage - bit.ly/9CWhatsOnStage 'Disturbing, infuriating and often downright horrible. Also, highly recommended.'
Morning Star - bit.ly/9CMorningStar 'Tense and thought provoking.'
London Pub Theatres - bit.ly/9CPocketTheatre 'A powerful tale told with a great deal of emotional intelligence.'
PocketSize Theatre - bit.ly/9CPocketTheatre 'A relentless 90 minute tour de force.'
BroadwayWorld - bit.ly/9CBroadwayWorld ‘Collins delivers an extraordinary performance.’
ReviewsHub - bit.ly/9CReviewshub 'a magnificently disturbing, compelling, essential watch.'
A young-ish Theatre - bit.ly/9CYoungishTheatre ‘Incredibly captivating.’
The Stage - bit.ly/9CTheStage'Gripping morality drama featuring a hypnotic central performance.'
Everything Theatre - bit.ly/9CEverythingTheatree 'Unfortunately timely and just as relevant.'
The Guardian - bit.ly/9CGuardian 'Unflinching appraisal of a wartime atrocity. Joshua Collins is magnetic.’
British Theatre Guide - bit.ly/9CBritishTheatreGuide'Guy Masterson delivers a production that produces a powerful empathy.'
London Theatre Reviews - bit.ly/9CLondonTheatreReviews 'Asks important questions about the value of war in light of its consequences.'
FULL REVIEWS FROM PARK THEATRE LONDON, JULY 2022
The Understudy 05/07/22 (Chris Dobson) - bit.ly/9CUnderstudy
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.
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.
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.
TheatreWeekly 01/07/22 (Greg Stewart) - bit.ly/9CTheatreWeekly
An exceptionally good play, with a central performance from Joshua Collins that really makes it an unmissable piece of theatre…
The current situation in Europe has seen the subject of war crimes raised more often than usual in the media, and perhaps has people questioning who is really responsible for the crimes of soldiers. The European Premiere of House of Cards writer Bill Cain’s 9 Circles follows success in the US, where the play first debuted in Chicago nine years ago.
It comes to London’s Park Theatre under the direction of Guy Masterson, who most recently directed the West End transfer of the Edinburgh Fringe hit The Shark Is Broken. This taught psychological thriller, if the title doesn’t give it away, is heavily influenced by Dante and takes much inspiration from Inferno.
A smooth American voice introduces each circle to us; in the first we meet Private Daniel E. Reeves as he receives an honourable discharge from the army in the midst of Operation Iraqi Freedom, by the second he’s in a cell in Arlington, accused of unforgivable crimes against Iraqi civilians. Having already been tried by the media, politicians and public, each subsequent circle serves as Daniel’s purgatory, as he creeps towards the trial and eventual inferno.
n each circle Daniel meets 9 Circles’ many versions of Virgil, an odd pastor (Daniel Bowerbank), a psychiatrist (Samara Neely Cohen) and an army attorney (David Calvitto) to name just a few. While they may all be trying to guide Daniel, they do not necessarily have his best intentions at heart.
As we make our way through the circles, we learn more about Daniel. The all-American Texas boy has a split personality, he doesn’t seem to be affected by the horrors of war and leans towards a desire to kill. So, the question is repeatedly raised, who is ultimately responsible for Daniel’s crimes? The army who gave him weapons, the recruiter who gave him the job just to meet the quota, the psychiatrist who thought drugs were the answer, or perhaps it’s someone else entirely.
9 Circles is cleverly written, being just Dantesque enough to deliver the message while at the same time bringing contemporary themes to the fore. It occasionally lingers too long in one circle, and sometimes you wonder if conversations, such as that between Daniel and his Lieutenant, would actually play out in the way portrayed here.
What keeps the audience gripped though, is an exceptional performance from Joshua Collins as Daniel. On stage throughout, Collins is mesmerising with a physical performance filled with nuanced ticks that gradually escalate the pain of the character, while somehow managing to garner empathy despite the truly horrific nature of Daniel’s crimes. Collins deep south Texan drawl brings a poetic quality, while his monologues in the final two circles have to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Despite having been written long before the current conflict, 9 Circles couldn’t feel more relevant today. It asks its audience to do some serious soul searching, but what we find as a result could very well be surprising. This is an exceptionally good play, with a central performance from Joshua Collins that really makes it an unmissable piece of theatre.
Lost In Theatreland 04/07/22 (Jack Carpenter) - bit.ly/9CLostinTheatre
It is a testament to the skill of both the writing of Bill Cain and the acting of Joshua Collins that one can feel anything but utter disgust towards the character of Private Daniel E Reeves. But it is impossible to view Private Reeves through only one lens.
￼The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park hosts the European premiere of 9 Circles. The play is written by Bill Cain, the writer of House of Cards and directed by Guy Masterson, director of The Shark is Broken. 9 Circles is based on true events, focusing on a repatriated US Army Private that is accused of war crimes. The character of Private Reeves is based upon Steven Dale Green, who committed appalling acts, but the play asks the question – does the blame entirely rest with him, or the army that put weapons into the hands of a clinically disturbed 21-year-old?
The 9 Circles through which Private Daniel E Reeves (Joshua Collins) travels are not those of hell that Dante experiences but instead various interactions with lawyers, pastors and psychiatrists. Daniel doesn’t seem to have much of a sense of reality outside these conversations and is often confused by the roles these other people play in his life. We are introduced to Daniel in the first circle as he is discharged from the military, but for reasons not yet clear. The audience later learns that while Daniel has knowledge of the barbaric crimes he has committed, it is clear that he does not understand them as anything beyond what his duty required.
These crimes are the murder of an Iraqi man, woman and child and the rape and subsequent murder of a another 14-year-old Iraqi girl. While the play asks us to consider conflicting ideas about blame and justice, the ghastly nature of his crimes is never questioned. Others have been critical of the play as it tells this story from the perspective of the soldier, and doesn’t give much time to the victims. It is of the utmost importance that their stories are told, but this one is not theirs and that does not mean it is less valuable.
Often stories of crime and justice are told in a individualistic manner. One person commits a crime and their trial alone gives justice to the victims. That rule book is well and truly thrown out here. The play is almost entirely comprised of conversations between Daniel and one other person but each conservation forces us to consider how the institutions and cultures surrounding the characters influence the way they act.
￼Each circle compels the audience to shift blame from one person to the next. In one, we learn how his prior convictions should have prevented Daniel joining the Army, but a recruiter waived the standard requirements and enlisted Daniel anyway. A man who is unfit for service now serves in the US Army. Do we blame the recruiter or the person setting the recruitment quotas that must be met? In another circle, an army lawyer argues that the United States government should never have invaded Iraq. Violence takes Iraq by storm. Do we blame the soldiers for going beyond their remit or those who placed them there to begin with?
It becomes apparent that this shifting of blame leads nowhere and so it must stand to reason that it cannot be as simple as: one man in prison means justice for victims.
Daniel Bowerbank, Samara Neely-Cohen, and David Calvitto each play multiple characters across the different circles and all bring varying levels of intensity and emotion to their roles which gives the play a fantastic flow. Calvitto, in particular, brings a much need snap of levity to some scenes, with expertly balanced humour that doesn’t distract from the seriousness of the material.
The staging is incredibly simple which, along with being performed in a round, lends to the intimacy of the interaction of the actors. The play has no interval, something I believe there needs to be a good reason for and this has one. The intensity from start to finish holds strong and keeps the audience entirely gripped throughout. The play is thought provoking, and shows that there is no simple answer when it comes to justice.
Sometimes theatre can absolutely just be fun but sometimes it goes further. 9 Circles is the kind of theatre production that feels deeply important, as well as being a fantastic night out.
WhatsOnStage 04/07/22 (Alun Hood) - bit.ly/9CWhatsOnStage
Bill Cain's terse, tense thunderclap of a play premieres here trailing a slew of rave reviews from American productions: it's not hard to see why. This is as potent and unforgiving an examination of the collateral damage of war that you're ever likely to encounter. It's both forensic and deeply human, and a cracking piece of theatre. You'll need a strong stomach, but we live in a world where hiding one's head in the sand increasingly feels like the wrong moral choice.
Cain ingeniously uses the concept of Dante's circles of Hell from the Divine Comedy's "Inferno" section to process the story of a young American soldier accused of atrocious war crimes while in Iraq. If that sounds grim, well it is, but the invention of the writing and structure (a disembodied voice announces each ever more hopeless circle as the soldier's life is gradually picked apart), the excellence of Guy Masterson's production and the sheer quality of the acting ensure that this is more than just a horror-trawl through the underbelly of man's inhumanity to man. The play interrogates the question of who ultimately takes responsibility for things done in wartime – is it the soldiers on the ground, some of whom may be pre-damaged by life before they even see combat, or officials higher up the food chain – and does so with clarity and a sense of carefully controlled fury.
If the piece engages more on an intellectual than an emotional level, it's because what the soldier Reeves is accused of having done is so repulsive that it becomes increasingly hard, at least to this viewer, to sympathise with him, especially once the ambiguities of the situation begin to get stripped away. Joshua Collins, who previously played this role in New York, is painfully convincing, giving Reeves a slack-jawed, dead-eyed intensity that haunts as much as it unsettles.
The three other actors – Samara Neely Cohen, David Calvitto and Daniel Bowerbank – all play a couple of roles apiece and they are all spot on. The differences between the characters are very subtle which reinforces the impression that each figure may be a variation on a theme in Reeves's fevered psyche. Neely Cohen is particularly impressive as a pair of women who attempt to help him, or at least connect with him, and as a calmly implacable prosecutor.
Staged in the round, the production forces the audience to bear witness as much as just observe (indeed, in the courtroom scene – or circle – you may find the prosecutor or defence attorney directly addressing you, particularly if you're on the front row): non-engagement is not an option. A clinical central disc (design: Duncan Henderson) is the only set but a myriad of moods and locations is conjured up by Tom Turner's truly stunning lighting, and a moody but unobtrusive soundscape by Jack Arnold.
The play is perhaps a little long: despite the brilliance of Collins' performance, the final death scene feels unnecessarily protracted, and the only time when the text verges on exploitative. It's never an easy watch, but it's an essential one. Disturbing, infuriating and often downright horrible. Also, highly recommended.
Morning Star 05/07/22 (Simon Parsons) - bit.ly/9CMorningStar
THIS absorbing psychological thriller based on real events follows Private Reeves’s passage through hell, as his brutal war crimes undergo the scrutiny of the military hierarchy, politicians, psychiatrists, clergymen and lawyers.
The 9 Circles equate to Dante’s descent into hell with each new circle representing a different perspective and judgment on the young man’s actions.
Bill Cain’s taut script explores who is really to blame for the atrocities of war as experienced by a Texan, white-trash youngster with a personality disorder who only finds a role and an identity after enlisting.
The immoral idiocy of the Gulf war provides the backdrop for his traumatic spiral downwards from honourable discharge to courtroom sentence.
Directed by Guy Masterson, this tense and thought-provoking production shifts swiftly between the contrasting levels with Joshua Collins’s damaged soldier trapped at the heart of the glowing, red circle stage.
His demanding performance is nuanced and convincing avoiding any sentimentality or self-pity.
Incomprehension, anger and frustration dominate his outlook as the psychological, moral and legal authorities attempt to bend his understanding to their perception.
The talented supporting cast of Daniel Bowerbank, Samara Cohen and David Calvitto create the broad spectrum of memorable characters.
An articulate lieutenant giving Reeves his marching orders, a manipulative attorney and psychiatrist coaching and evoking responses, a sinful prison pastor and grandstanding trial lawyers proclaiming their versions of the truth are all involved in Reeves’s infernal passage to some kind of damned self-discovery.
Not without humour, Cain’s script intelligently uses and modernises many of the horrors of Dante’s Inferno without ever sounding contrived and as with the original poem the central character’s descent asks questions about our own culpability.
Inspired by the recent trial of a Russian soldier for crimes committed in the Ukraine, the play analyses our involvement and any rights we have to judge those thrown into the mayhem of conflict.
Some of the scenes are slightly overextended and the final sequence a touch self-indulgent, but this production will tighten before going on to the Edinburgh Festival where I expect it to garner rave reviews.
BroadwayWorld 04/07/22 (Scott Matthewman) - bit.ly/9CBroadwayWorld
Dante Alighieri built his idea of hell as a colossal conical structure that opens up underneath Jerusalem and reaches the centre of the Earth. He makes his descent steadily, accompanied by Virgil. The further away from Jerusalem, the further away from God and goodness.
A stone's throw from Jerusalem, Iraq and what it represents in the American cultural portfolio is ravaged by conflict. A young soldier puts up a fight before he is honourably discharged. A cold-blooded killer who's completely unbothered by having to make his way through piles of corpses, he is everything the States want in their ranks.
Bill Cain writes a politically intense and thematically complex play that puts on display the hypocrisy and opportunism of American warfare. Based on the real story of Steven Dale Green, 9 Circles presents a country that glorifies combat. It exposes a categorical refusal to deal with the trauma of both employed soldiers and veterans - who are used, discarded, victimised as they please - and the wilful neglect of the real victims.
Cain crafts a character whose diagnosed personality disorder and addictive tendencies are identified as bona fide weapons by recruiters who prey on the young. Private Daniel Reeves, played with precise calibration by Joshua Collins, is a fatherless son who had to grow up too fast and stumbled into a minefield.
Collins gives him an untouchable attitude and rampant arrogance that scrapes a superiority complex. A man who deeply craves attention and honour, he can't fathom a repatriation for a crime he maintains he didn't commit.
After all, what's one more violation on the field? Tried for the murder of an Iraqi family and the brutal rape of a 14-year-old girl, his version of hell is crowded with the people he meets on the road to his final sentence. Collins is a machine-gun of words, and his articulate Texas drawl drips with Daniel's fallible reasoning and unempathetic views.
He details his time in Iraq to a number of attorneys who attempt to take his case, revealing the utter incompetence of the military system when it comes to supporting the strain and distress of its troops. His circumstances become a problem only when his crimes grow into a PR disaster.
The president calls him a stain on the United States on national television and he's compared to "another fuck-up from Texas", George W Bush. His cruelty scares them once it's not targeted towards their common enemy, but his victims are never contemplated in the discourse.
Used as a tool to make a point and haunted by the deaths of the brothers in arms who watched him as he killed and raped, he blames the outcome on the mishandling of his mental health. While other soldiers are lining up to testify against him, he regrets opening up to the army psychologist who sent him on his way, refusing to acknowledge his worries.
The shockingly useless psychologist humanises his traumas but underplays his distressed state. Cain keeps weaving knots in his story. He pinpoints the political fallout of Daniel's situation, but pays little mind to his actual wrongdoings. He exposes a system desperate to place the blame and to avoid any kind of responsibility, while at the same time offering someone who's the perfect product of his context. Cain's criticism is subtle and sharp, but he is also disturbingly resigned to the inevitability of the damage of warfare.
It's absolutely impossible to be an intellectually passive audience. Directed by Guy Masterson, 9 Circles is a bona fide trial of the United States Army. With the action played in the round, the public becomes the jurors, at one point directly addressed by the Prosecutor and the Defence Attorney as they orbit the accused.
Collins delivers an extraordinary performance as the unreliable narrator. On stage from start to end, he introduces an incapability of understanding the moral implications of his actions. He is diligent in his portrayal of a man who was shaped by his training. The side characters (Samara Neely-Cohen, David Calvitto and Daniel Bowerbank in multiple roles, with Calvitto shining as one of the attorneys) become murky visions playing out for his benefit alone.
Duncan Henderson visually encloses Daniel with a clean and effective set. A neon halo hovers over a carpeted circle that delimits his freedom and a low booming sound (Jack Arnold) greets every person who dares to come close to the Private. Light and darkness accompany Daniel as per Tom Turner’s lighting design, cold hues and deep reds imply federal prisons and the rumbling caves of his personal hell.
It's a striking play with magnetic dialogues that ask very precise questions. Is war worth its human casualties? Is a media circus and a jury of civilians the best way to handle a scandal that could have been prevented? Or is a whole system where the real victims are barely named and acknowledged in a major need of being rebuilt? Get tickets and discuss.
Reviewshub 04/07/22 (Scott Matthewman) - bit.ly/9CReviewshub
The writer Dante Alighieri conceived of the descent into hell as a series of nine circles, the descent through which makes it all the more inevitable that one could never escape.
That allegory works well for the story of Private Daniel Reeves (Joshua Collins), honourably discharged from the US Army during the Iraq war when his personality disorder – a lack of concern for the killing of others – becomes too much for his superiors to bear, even though it also makes him ideal for the sort of mindless role the army needs.
Returned to the US and set adrift, we next meet Reeves in a police cell – there, he believes, for driving under the influence. But another charge hangs over him: that while in Iraq, he raped e and Reeves’ history of poor mental health through a succession of duologues the private has with a succession of lawyers, a psychologist and a a 14-year-old girl and murdered her family. If found guilty, he faces death by lethal injection.
Writer Bill Cain drip feeds facts about both the casrather unorthodox pastor. Collins is the sole constant, his performance magnetic, charismatic and engaging even when it seems as if the callous, murderous monster on the charge sheet might actually be an accurate depiction. In his hands, Reeves is also a sympathetic victim of the Army: in their rush to get feet on the ground in Iraq, they overlooked his history; the concerns he expresses to an army psychologist are waved away as an inconvenience.
The variable quality of the actors going head-to-head with Collins tends to dampen some of the play’s impact. The best is David Calvitto, playing two very different defence lawyers – one civilian, one military – who each muddy their dealing with their client with their own personal viewpoints.
Daniel Bowerbank’s pastor – himself a recovering alcoholic, and with a line in dry humour that verges on inappropriate – offers a change of tone in a play which otherwise invites us to descend into hell with its central character.
All this plays out on a suitably in-the-round stage design by Duncan Henderson, lit by Tom Turner’s rings of light that provide a sense of physical and mental claustrophobia.
There are several moments in the generally taut play that perhaps could tighten up. The final scene bears the brunt of these, and although that has a narrative purpose it does somewhat dampen the emotional impact of the play’s climax.
Nevertheless, Cain’s writing highlights the callousness of war, the brutality it demands of participants, and the horrors when that brutality is realised. Thanks in no small part to Collins’s performance, 9 Circles is a magnificently disturbing, compelling, essential watch.
LondonPubTheatres 04/07/22 (Klervi Gavet) - bit.ly/9CLondonPubs
In 2006, 20-year-old Private First Class Steven Dale Green rapes 14-year-old civilian Abeer Qassim Hamza Al-Janabi. He then proceeds to shoot her, her parents and her 6-year-old sister before setting their home on fire in South Baghdad. He is found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment the same year.
In House of Cards writer Bill Cain’s 9 CIRCLES, Green becomes Reeves, a young fatherless Texan with an anti-social personality disorder and lethal fantasies, accused of identical crimes. We follow his descent into hell, from honourably dismissed private to Public Enemy No.1 to (spoiler alert) his execution by lethal injection. A modern Dantesque journey into a chemically-sizzling Inferno. This production makes for an all-round captivating watch.
In our post-pandemic-pre-WW3-mid-what-fresh-hell-will-today’s-news-bring climate, it is painfully easy to see the relevance of 9 CIRCLES. In the parallel it naturally draws between the US invasion of Iraq and the Russian invasion in Ukraine. In its emphasis on how governments use patriotic propaganda to justify Messianic blood baths on foreign soil and recruit young impressionable minds, eager to find their glory and place in life and bring back dignity to a once great nation. Add a high-profile trial where the public defender repeatedly begs the jury to make the law “the last line of defence” of a powerless rape victim and this 2009 play may give you full 2022 whiplash.
Guy Masterson’s direction keep things tight and moving. The play is staged in the round, with Duncan Henderson’s circular set subjecting Reeves’ every move to our uninterrupted judgement. And with very little room between the audience and the supporting characters orbiting Reeves’ circle of hell, everyone gets real close real quick. A treat for an English audience who just thrives on unexpected physical intimacy. Tom Turner’s minimalist lighting design and Jack Arnold’s ominous soundscape complete this sensorially and intellectually stimulating production.
Top Boy Joshua Collins takes the lead as Reeves with great stamina and generosity in a relentless 90-min acting tour-de-force. Like a young Jake Gyllenhaal circa Donnie Darko, his boyish smile and swagger charm as much as they unnerve. He is joined by David Calvitto, Daniel Bowerbank and Samara Neely Cohen in a series of disturbing duologues on the hypocrisy of war and the mistreatment of a traumatized cannon fodder youth who has everything taken from them, up to the (military) shirt off their back.
PocketSize Theatre 05/07/22 (Brian Penn) - bit.ly/9CPocketTheatre
We assume that wars are fought to protect a civilised and peaceful existence; unfettered by those who seek to destroy the lives we choose to live; but what about the men and women who are trained to achieve this objective. Do they understand who and what they are fighting for? Do they obey the command of their masters and assume morality is on their side? But are they simply state-trained killers indoctrinated by the preferred narrative. What really is the effect on soldiers who are programmed to kill the enemy? This intriguing play by Bill Cain explores these themes in forensic detail and delivers more than a hint of inconvenient truth.
The story begins in Iraq as soldier Daniel E. Reeves (Joshua Collins) is about to receive an honourable discharge. He verbally spars with his Lieutenant (Daniel Bowerbank) at the real meaning and both settle on a personality disorder. He later wakes up in a cell back in the US. The Public Defender (Samara Neely-Cohen) informs him of charges relating to his conduct in Iraq. Reeves falls deep into a mind fog as he tries to make sense of what has happened. The Defence Attorney (David Calvitto) is convinced he can get an acquittal if only he plays ball.
9 Circles is a harrowing but totally compulsive study of the human condition and fragility of mental health in combat conditions. Upstairs at the Park Theatre is a tight and claustrophobic space perfectly suited to the play's mood. A circular stage lit above with a smaller beam heightens the tension as each stage of the narrative approaches. A superlative cast all sweat to make the characters work within the plot, but Joshua Collins is outstanding as the damaged Daniel Reeves. He remains on stage for the entire 90 minutes of the play and easily handles a character heavily laden with dialogue. Joshua is word perfect with well-judged mannerisms that make the character truly authentic.
We all have a clear notion of the wars that are justified and those driven by open hostility. But members of the armed forces have no choice in the wars they fight. The psychological wear and tear are thankfully recognised as a debilitating condition. It inevitably involves a loss of one's own goodness and humanity; that in itself is a shocking realisation. A powerful tale told with a great deal of emotional intelligence. (Brian Penn)
A Youngish Theatre 04/07/22 - (Joe Tapper) - bit.ly/9CYoungishTheatre
9 Circles is a sharp, critical and observant based-on-a-true-story work from House of Cards writer Bill Cain. The piece is split into nine handy scenes, designed to echo Dante’s journey through the nine concentric circles in Hell, a structure which does well to gradually increase in intensity even when the story is being told out of sequence, giving the feel of the darkness closing in – the noose tightening. In this story the protagonist is Reeves, an alleged war criminal who we learn has done unspeakable things to a young Iraqi girl during his service.
The questions are: why did he do it? how does war change a man? who is to blame, even partly, for such atrocity? and how can, or how should, we judge?
The play takes us through Reeves’ conversations – more often, verbal battles – with all manner of American establishment figures, from an army official to a pastor to a lawyer to a shrink and so on, each designed to represent and consequently challenge their firmly-held positions of judgement.
In this quick-witted, often-skewering commentary, the play succeeds. The writing is fast and exciting, and circles tick by at impressive speed, leaving the audience pleasantly surprised at how we managed to get to wherever we were taken. And any time the dialogue veers close to cliche, the play makes up with clever and effective references to previous scenes, and bold choices from characters who could have easily fallen into two-dimensionality. The pastor’s surprising choice of language, and the lawyer’s tactics to convince Reeves to re-examine his case, are two such particularly fun and compelling examples.
Such writing is demanding for the actors, though it rarely shows. Joshua Collins as Reeves inarguably carries the piece. Tasked with bearing the brunt of the dialogue, he does so expertly, buzzing with frenetic energy and creating a convincing and incredibly captivating performance. His connection with the material, and the audience, was impressive, and I particularly enjoyed the choice to notice moments of audience awkwardness – a head-turn towards a dropped bottle, a cheeky salute to a leaving audience member – even if this did perhaps ever-so-slightly undermine his surprise noticing us in circle nine.
The cast did well to bounce off each other and handle the play’s dynamism, and were at their best when their characters’ deeper layers came to the fore and avoided being a mere mouthpiece for an idea. David Calvitto put in an excellent turn, particularly as the kind-faced lawyer determined to have the case seen in different lights, and both he and Collins capably handled the difficulties that playing in the round can bring. Samara Neely-Cohen and Daniel Bowerbank also had shining moments, the former’s well-meaning shrink and the latter’s calculating pastor both elevating their circles and owning their moments.
Guy Masterson’s direction, alongside Mark Baldwin’s movement direction, handled the piece well, and in all-but-one scene managed to manoeuvre the actors successfully around the space and have them delivering to all sides, without the audience noticing the intention. The choice to keep the set as one ring (or circle) was perhaps obvious but effective – a neat boxing ring for Cain’s verbal sparring – and managed to avoid seeming gimmicky. A same-sized ring above was a nice way of giving a glass cage effect, trapping Reeves, and the simple LED-style lighting from these rings, accompanied by a thrumming soundtrack, did well to aid transitions and lift important moments. The costumes, uniforms of the respective figures, were all they needed to be, the design elements deliberately minimal to place the focus squarely on the dialogue.
It didn’t always work. There are only so many times a character can be stopped just as they are about to exit a room, either by the protestations of the protagonist, or the overwhelming urge to deliver a line that might’ve worked better as an Andy McNab chapter-ender.
The choice to end the play, à la Dante, with our antihero’s version of Inferno, is interesting, but its stylisation and recapping of key moments is almost cringey and falls slightly short. Its attempt at its arguably most emotional moment, aided by solid sound design, hit the heart, but felt undermined by the difficult asks of the actor, and seemed ultimately like too little emotionally-focused moments too late.
This isn’t to say there weren’t beautiful snippets of the emotional weight of the story – the vulnerability shown by Reeves to his shrink, for example – but, for the rest, the play relied on the facts to be horrifying enough.
Mostly, they were. And if not, we were still treated to plenty of Sorkin-style tennis matches and asked, most obviously in the trial scene where the audience are more knowingly included, which side we were on.
Which means it made me think, even if, by not quite marrying the power of its ideas to their emotional burden, it didn’t teach me much. But with a 90-minute runtime, snappy dialogue, and captivating performances, it did leave my partner and I talking about the issues well into the night. Which can only be a good thing.
The Stage 04/07/22 (Paul Vale) - bit.ly/9CTheStage
Gripping morality drama featuring a hypnotic central performance.
Written in 2010, Bill Cain’s 9 Circles is based on the career of real-life soldier Steven Dale Green who was tried and sentenced for war crimes while serving in Iraq in 2006. In Cain’s take on Dante’s Inferno, soldier Daniel E Reeves is arrested after attending the funeral of fellow veterans. He is charged with the murder of an Iraqi family while on duty and the the rape and murder of their teenage daughter. While awaiting trial, the details of his case horrify the public but Reeves remains unrepentant, while a series of lawyers, preachers and psychiatrists attempt to comprehend his motivation.
Although Cain’s gripping drama originally opened in Chicago in the wake of Green’s trial, events in the Ukraine surrounding the arrest and trial of the 21-year-old Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin make the play equally as prescient for this UK premiere. The main argument of 9 Circles is one of accountability. As Cain picks away at the morals and ethics of the story, it looks as if Reeves might be a scapegoat, sacrificed to atone for the horrors of a wholly unnecessary war.
It’s a difficult story to digest but Guy Masterson’s production is sleek and stylish, with a haunting soundscape designed by Jack Arnold. The set is suitably unchallenging, designed by Duncan Henderson to provide a series of holding cells in which Reeves is interrogated and suited to the in-the-round space of the Park90. It all adds up to a theatrical neatness that contrasts hugely with the incomprehensible violence of the story. Reeves is beyond redemption but is he to blame?
Joshua Collins is disturbingly charismatic as Reeves, his Texan drawl insistent and unwavering in his conviction that he is guilty as charged. Daniel Bowerbank is suitably shifty as Reeves’ discharging lieutenant but it’s later, as the unconventional pastor, that he makes his mark, painfully pleading with Reeves to accept Christ. It’s a powerful-yet-futile exchange that provides a turning point for the story.
A steady, focused performance from David Calvitto as an army attorney provides something of an insight on the attitudes of the world outside. For him, Reeves is an opportunity to draw a halt to the war, if only he would re-enlist and undergo a military trial. Samara Neely Cohen is an understandably nervous public defender when Reeves is initially arrested but later, either as the army shrink or prosecutor, her delivery is a little under-powered, which tends to undermine the urgency of these exchanges.
Cain’s play is by no means perfect, including a final scene that spreads itself too thinly but Masterson, who achieved success recently in the West End with The Shark Is Broken, handles the material with great care. It may be an unsettling piece, but the themes are eerily current and the central performance riveting.
EverythingTheatre 04/07/22 (DaveB) - bit.ly/9CEverythingTheatre
‘Inferno’, the first part of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, describes his journey through nine circles of hell. 9 Circles charts the journey of Private Daniel E Reeves (Joshua Collins) through his own nine circles of hell.
We begin as Reeves is honourably discharged from the US Army – against his wishes: this is his first circle of hell. His discharge is brought on because he sought help from an Army psychologist (Samara Neely-Cohen) who diagnosed him with a personality disorder. A short time later, he wakes up in a jail cell. Assuming he’s had too much to drink the night before, Reeves worries about damage to his car: this is his second circle of hell. We follow him down through hell as he discovers he has now been accused of the rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl in Iraq. Through each circle, we learn more about him and his alleged crimes
9 Circles is staged in the round in a simple set from Duncan Henderson; a circle on the floor and a circle hanging above, with lighting designed by Tom Turner. They dim, brighten, flash and move as the circles of hell deepen. Other characters can step in and out of these rings, but they keep Reeves caged. From the opening, he is on stage within the circle. He remains there until the end, even receiving his costume changes from other characters, and changing within the enclosed space from army fatigues to civvies to prison jumpsuit. It is Collins as Reeves who holds all of this together, bringing intensity, and doggedness to the role. It’s not a comfortable play to watch. In the small space of Park 90, Collins turns to speak to each section of the audience and often pauses to make eye contact, appearing to speak as if it were directly to individual audience members and adding to the intensity.
Some scenes and conversations seem surreal. Early in the play, in the first of multiple roles, David Calvitto plays a senior army lawyer. He comes to speak with Reeves as he wants to use his case to make a larger point about the war and the merits, or lack thereof, of George W Bush. He seems to have convinced Reeves, or at least made a connection, but then his character is never heard from again, and later the actor plays a different lawyer. In between, there is an odd section where Reeves is visited by a Pastor (Daniel Bowerbank) who has an addiction to internet pornography.
What is going on? Are we in a version of reality unreliably narrated by Reeves? Are we on a metaphorical journey, or are these meant to be taken at face value? I wonder if familiarity with the details of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ is needed to fully understand and appreciate this play. Or maybe we are simply to be left with questions?
It feels like 9 Circles, while using Reeves to make its point about a young unstable man who was sent to the other side of the world to kill, often appears to forget the victims of this crime. Even accepting the argument that Reeves is a victim of the military-industrial complex, is he more of a victim than a raped, murdered 14-year-old girl?
With today’s headlines full of news of ongoing war crimes trials in Ukraine, Bill Cain’s 2010 play based on a real-life incident in Iraq remains, unfortunately, timely and just as relevant.
The Guardian 02/07/22 (Miriam Gillison) - bit.ly/9CGuardian
Unflinching appraisal of a wartime atrocity…
Joshua Collins is magnetic as a US soldier awaiting trial for murder in this hard-hitting drama.
The title is a riff on Dante’s Inferno but there aren’t enough circles in hell for the horror contained in Bill Cain’s upsetting play. The names have been changed but this is essentially a feverish re-examination of the life, trial and death of US soldier Steven Dale Green, who was convicted in 2009 for killing an Iraqi family and raping the 14-year-old daughter. It’s a really tough watch – not without merit but difficult to sit through and with some serious flaws in its composition.
There’s a heated intensity to Guy Masterson’s tightly calibrated production, held together by Jack Arnold’s humming battlecry of a soundscape which slowly engulfs us as the trial approaches. Duncan Henderson’s neatly symbolic set frames the action inside a pair of glowing red circles: from the fury of Baghdad to the loneliness of the holding cell, this is the story of a soldier’s life that has always, on some level, felt like a kind of imprisonment.
As the soldier, Daniel E Reeves, meets with attorneys and lawyers, a seriously creepy pastor and shockingly incompetent army psychiatrists (all played with an eerie sense of disassociation by Samara Neely-Cohen, Daniel Bowerbank and David Calvitto), we start to suspect they might all be a product of Reeves’s deeply disturbed psyche. This fuzzy hold on reality makes for a powerful atmosphere but a confusing play. Cain seems to be making an argument about the hypocrisy of war and the culpability of those in authority.
Joshua Collins is horribly watchable as the imprisoned Reeves. To simply spend time with this soldier is to begin to humanise him. There’s something about the physicality of Collins – who salutes and exercises with robotic precision – that points to how little control a recruit has over his own body
British Theatre Guide 02/07/22 (Howard Loxton) - bit.ly/9CBritishTheatreGuide
For the second time this week I was faced with a stage marked out with a circular blue disk with a matching ring of blue light above it, but when the play began with the roar of a helicopter’s blades and the light changes colour, that tranquility is gone. 9 Circles: think Dante’s Inferno. This is a descent into Hell for young soldier Daniel E Reeves.
A grunt out in Iraq, he is being given an Honourable Discharge, but it makes him feel that he has done something wrong. It will turn out he had problems, went to see an army psychiatrist and was diagnosed with a personality disorder.
“Some things don’t bother me the way they bother other people,” he tells the Lieutenant discharging him, “The basics, sir: killing people.” His rearing and indoctrination has taught him that, in war, people are supposed to die.
Months later, back in the USA, he’s with a lawyer. At first, he thinks it’s a traffic accident he is up for. He admits, “I was drunk, I was driving.” But this is about something that happened in Iraq: the killing of civilians, the shooting of a whole family and rape of a young girl.
There are parallels with the case of actual US soldier Steven Dale Green, sentenced in 2009 for similar killings, but Daniel’s descent into Hell is different and is strikingly played by Joshua Collins. This isn’t a portrait of a psychopath, nothing so simple. It was he who sought help from the psychiatrist. He’s upset about the killing of a dog yet claims not to care about the girl, yet her killing he did as a sort of kindness and he showed compassion to his dying sergeant until the last moment.
9 Circles premièred in the States 12 years ago, but this is the first European staging. Director Guy Masterson delivers an in-the-round production that produces a powerful empathy. We can’t get inside this boy’s head, except perhaps in his final moments, we have to watch from outside, but it makes watchable theatre.
Duncan Henderson’s setting and Tom Turner’s lighting concentrate the attention like a microscope and the other characters, so useless in supporting him, get fine supporting performances. Daniel Bowerbank’s alcoholic Pastor, Samara Neely Cohen’s psychiatrist and lawyers and David Calvitto’s two attorneys play their part in Daniel’s story then back out again. They are not just ciphers, but they never take attention away from him. It is a nineteen-year-old private who is in the dock, not the recruiters who saw him as soldier material, not his officers, not the Generals, not the politicians who put him in Iraq in the first place.
LondonTheatreReviews 02/07/22 (Matthew Pierce) - bit.ly/9CLondonTheatreReviews
This well-performed production of a complicated play comments on the true story of the Mahmudiyah rape and killing of a 14-year-old Iraqi child and her family by United States Army soldiers in 2006. The title and scene structure of Bill Cain’s play is inspired by Dante’s Inferno and parallels the descent into the nine circles of hell.
Throughout the nine scenes, we journey through time and location. From a US Military Base in Iraq to a Holding Cell in the States, a Federal Prison in Oklahoma, back to Iraq, then to a US courtroom, prison, and eventually hell itself. Surprisingly, its form holds up in spite of a barren set and minimal props and costume changes.
The cast is comprised of four actors, three of whom form a company that juggles dual roles. The fourth actor, Joshua Collins, remains onstage the entire 90 minutes playing Daniel E. Reeves, the “scapegoat” soldier in the aforementioned hearing. Collins is impressive as Reeves, bringing incredible energy and volatility to the role. At certain points, however, nuance was sacrificed for volume and front-footed intensity that detracted from the character’s humanity. Some of Collins' strongest work was saved for the final moments of the piece where a beautiful simplicity was achieved.
Samara Neely Cohen was likewise impressive and moving as the prosector and David Calvitto, in both his parts, brought great clarity and balance to the piece. Often throughout but especially in the first part of this production, the volume of all the actors and Jack Arnold’s sound design was unnecessarily loud. Director Guy Masterson has carefully navigated this theatre in the round so there is not a bad seat in the house. Furthermore, this production’s 90 minutes are well-paced with rapid transitions.
At times, this play is slightly too on the nose for its own good and because it centres on Reeves, feels somehow imbalanced in its ethical appeals to an audience. That said, the play does ask important questions about the value of war in light of its consequences. It demands important reflections about the standards and screenings army officers receive (or do not) when they enlist. And particularly with this story, it explores the camaraderie of soldiers, many of whom enlist as lost boys, and are transformed and forever altered by their community in the service. The piece effectively flags the harm of unquestioned loyalty and groupthink. And at its most poignant, confronts the hubris of a soldier with the lie of a misguided war.