Amnesty Play Readings
Amnesty International Bury St. Edmunds & Theatre Royal Writers
present two play readings
Suphana by Roger Curtis
Home Truths by Richard Stainer
Saturday May 14th 7:30pm
Friends Meeting House, St. John’s Street
Members f5, non members f6
For more information: 01284 725380 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Amnesty International Bury St Edmunds
In two week’s time – as part of the Bury Festival – there will be a showing of the film The Killing Fields. Some of you will have seen it and will remember that its subject is the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in Cambodia in the 1970s. When Pol Pot’s communist forces swept into Phnom Penh, ousting the unpopular Lon Nol regime, their first action was to clear the city. The entire population was dispatched to the countryside – and condemned to a life of forced labour and barbarity. Institutions, banks, schools, money and many other aspects of normal life were abandoned. During the four years or so of Khmer Rouge rule nearly two million people – a fifth of the population – died.
In Phnom Penh the regime established a prison in a former school building. It became known as Tuol Sleng or simply S21. Its purpose was the extraction of confessions, by torture, from those citizens perceived – usually on the flimsiest of grounds – to be a threat to the revolution. Of the 16,000 or more citizens imprisoned there all but seven were killed, many at the so-called ‘killing field’ on the outskirts of the city. One of the prisoners was a young woman called Bophana, whose only ‘crime’ was to send letters containing amorous sentiments to her husband, a Khmer Rouge cadre working in the capital and separated from her. Records at the prison – particularly prisoners’ confessions – were maintained meticulously; after five months of suffering Bophana’s file was among the thickest.
Suphana is based essentially upon Bophana’s story. Because what happened to her in prison cannot be known precisely there has been some dramatic licence, and some detail has been drawn from other sources. For this reason our heroine has a different name. But the letters, the child that died, the person of the prison commandant (who lives today having been convicted of crimes against humanity), the
infatuation of a guard with his prisoner and the frequently levelled accusation against a prisoner of being an agent of the CIA are all based on fact.
Why write about such things? Perhaps because the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge were in some respects unique. We are used, these days, to witnessing barbarism in extreme forms, carried out in the name of some misguided cause or other. In Cambodia the atrocities were perpetrated, usually without reason or discernible benefit, against the country’s own people. A question to ask is how the Cambodians, the gentlest of people, had turned themselves into mass killers. The answer, if we confront the question squarely, is not a comfortable one.
Avril hasn’t been given any information about Home Truths – except that it might be lighter than the other one!