Theatre N16 18 April – 6 May. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
While people are still talking about the failings of US justice after watching “Making a Murderer”, Martin McNamara reminds us what the British establishment is capable of.
Bomb attacks in 1974 led to the conviction of the Guildford Four. Because of draconian anti-terrorism laws, they were allowed to be kept in custody for up to a week, allowing the police to coerce confessions out of them which led to their imprisonment, until their convictions were finally quashed in 1989.
Using the letters that Paul Hill wrote to his family, Martin McNamara has written an astonishing play chronicling Hill’s time in prison. Stefan McCusker as Hill has such an innocent baby face that he has your sympathy from the offset. But his performance is outstanding – explaining the slipperiness and ironies of the court procedures and prison life with a weary acceptance, while his moments of quiet despair are highlighted by his extraordinarily faraway but piercing gazes into the audience. James Elmes is almost certifiable as the rest of the world (just watch his lip synching and dancing) – dressed in black and simply adding a hat or a pair of fetching glasses, he portrays the police, politicians (a brilliant Maggie!), solicitors, priests and reporters. He manages to be hysterical, flirtatious and intimidating. Hill’s ghostings between prisons are portrayed starkly and simply by just moving his mattress from one side of the stage to the other accompanied by Elmes shouting prison orders. The prison beatings are brutal and well-choreographed, and are very disconcerting happening so close to the audience. The set is simple, with a brick wall covered in IRA graffiti for the prison, and a circus platform for court.
Using Hill’s letters to his mother and aunt obviously only portrays his view point of events, but, like any son, he is writing to convince his family that he is surviving and they should not lose hope. His comments about TV shows of the 70s and 80s are light hearted and in stark contrast to what is actually happening around him. Elmes’ reporter narrates the events in court and parliament with relish and from the establishment’s point of view. The narrative jumps around a little at the start, which confused a few younger members of the audience who had no idea who Hill was or why he was in prison, but all soon became clear for them.
McNamara doesn’t glorify Hill, including a scene where Hill explains what actually happened in the appeal court, rather than what was portrayed in the film version. Instead he just presents a normal lad in an extraordinary situation – so I have just about forgiven him for the Christ allusion during the police interrogation scene.
Your Ever Loving is a wonderful production, with an incredible cast telling a terrible story with lots of humour and humanity, and leaving you feeling just a little uneasy about whether this could happen again today.