Blood and Gifts

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Blood and Gifts
Written by J. T. Rogers
Date premiered September 14, 2010 (2010-09-14)
Place premiered Lyttelton Theatre
Original language English
Setting 1981 - 1991, Pakistan, America and Afghanistan
Official site

Blood and Gifts is a play by the American playwright J. T. Rogers. Its subject is the struggle for control of Afghanistan during the 1980s, from the American, Soviet, British, Pakistani, and secular Afghan points of view. It premiered in September 2010 at the Lyttelton Theatre, starring Lloyd Owen.

The play was originally shorter and in one act. That version, now withdrawn, was presented in 2009 as part of The Great Game: Afghanistan.


In 1981 Central Intelligence Agency operative Jim Warnock arrives in Peshawar as station chief, accidentally meeting his Soviet counterpart Gromov at the airport. He and his MI6 opposite number Simon Craig liaise with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence to supply weapons to Afghan warlords fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Pakistanis insist on retaining control of the weapons supply and on prioritising Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a right-wing Islamist warlord unpalatable to both Warnock and Craig, though they both acquiesce to the deal. Warnock and the CIA have been banned from setting foot in Afghanistan personally, so he goes to a refugee camp on the Pakistan side of the border to meet with a relatively secular, non-right-wing warlord Abdullah and his western-pop-music-loving right-hand-man Saeed. He agrees to supply them both with weapons in return for information on the situation in Afghanistan. Warnock is also troubled by his absence from his wife and what he sees as his betrayal of his contacts in Iran after the Islamic Revolution there.

After four years Warnock returns to the USA, where his wife miscarries a long-hoped-for daughter before giving birth to a son. Warnock also coordinates a US visit and speech by Abdullah which convinces a wealthy senator to donate to the cause. Against the wishes of Warnock's superior Walter Barnes, who believes such a move might backfire in the future and removes all trace of deniability, a US committee votes to supply the Afghan warlords with Stinger missiles. Warnock returns to Afghanistan where he refuses Gromov's plea to let the Soviets retreat with dignity and alienates Craig by continuing to support Pakistan's backing of Hekmatyar. He meets Gromov as he departs Peshawar and then has a final meeting with Abdullah (this time in Afghanistan) before going back to the USA. He learns from Abdullah that Saeed has been killed by the Soviets and that Saeed was in fact Abdullah's son, a fact he had not previously revealed to Warnock. Warnock asks to buy back the Stinger missiles but learns Abdullah has sold them to Iran and allied himself with Hekmatyar until the Soviets are finally defeated. Abdullah then closes the play with a warning that the Mujahadeen will defeat the Soviets then "cross oceans" to spread Islamism.

Principal cast (UK premiere)[edit]

  • Saeed - Philip Arditti
  • Military Clerk - Danny Ashok
  • CIA Analyst - Nick Barber
  • Senator Jefferson Birch - Duncan Bell
  • Abdullah - Demosthenes Chrysan
  • A Mujahid - Kammy Darweish
  • Administrative Aide - Ian Drysdale
  • A Soldier - Craige Els
  • A Mujahid - Robert Gilbert
  • Political Speechwriter - Mark Healy
  • Simon Craig - Adam James
  • Walter Barnes - Simon Kunz
  • Colonel Afridi - Gerald Kyd
  • Ensemble - Katie Lightfoot
  • Gromov - Matthew Marsh
  • James 'Jim' Warnock - Lloyd Owen
  • Staffer - Jessica Regan
  • A Mujahid - Nabil Stuart


The full length play received mainly positive reviews. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph wrote that there was "plenty of sharp humour and political savvy in the dialogue" but felt the play had "little emotional depth" and would have preferred a play on the situation in Afghanistan in the present rather than the past[1] Michael Billington of The Guardian criticised the writer's "advantage of hindsight which lends much of the action a self-conscious irony" but otherwise praised him for a "complex, demanding play",[2] though Lara Pawson of the same newspaper criticised its "clomping cliches" and reiterated earlier criticisms of the play by John Simpson on Front Row.[3] Fiona Mountford gave the play 5 stars in her review in the Evening Standard and felt the play was "the most clear-eyed dramatic assessment to date of the current situation"[4]


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  4. ^ Archived October 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]