Theatre 503 presents
This Much is True
A play based on testimony
by Paul Unwin and Sarah Beck
Directed by Tim Roseman
Set and Costume Design: Paul Wills
Lighting Design: Richard Howell
Sound Design: Mike Walker
Video Design: Tim Bird and Knifedge
28 October – 21 November, 2009
A review by Chad Armitstead for EXTRA! EXTRA!
The barrel presses against the back of my neck. It’s angled up into that part of my brain that, if destroyed, will prevent me from detonating a device out of reflex.
The barrel’s warm from the summer sun. Or from being pressed against the officer’s hip all morning. Is he an officer?
I search my recent memory for any inadvertent crimes. Caryl Churchill’s line about how you won’t hear the shot that extinguishes your life suddenly comes to mind.
I turn to my wife and ask: “What if it were you? What if it were me?”
From the moment Gerald Kyd puts a needle through a balloon to start the show, this is how Theatre 503’s latest effort gets in your head and punctures any bubble of complacency that surrounds your notion of justice.
You’ll be tempted to retreat back into the safety of the idea that all justice has its costs. After all, it’s administered by people. And everybody makes mistakes. Right?
A verbatim piece written by Paul Unwin and Sarah Beck, This Much is True is an unflinching dissection of the events surrounding the mistaken shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes by anti-terrorism police on July 22, 2005 at Stockwell tube station.
Unwin and Beck stop short of simply vilifying the police organisation, to their credit. What they do is far more unsettling. They expose the human tendency to dissemble when the stakes are high—a tendency that makes the truth about de Menezes’ final moments virtually unknowable.
Tim Roseman directs a show that creeps into the psyche and personal space of its audience. At times the actors address us directly, leave us alone in the theatre, and ask us questions.
All but making the audience a character in the play, Roseman makes the public’s role in the tragedy personal for those sitting in the black box. This Much is True asks the audience to consider their part in perpetuating the systemic failures and the myths masquerading as explanations for the shooting.
To this end, Roseman’s cast is relentlessly engaging.
Justine Waddell (actor) electrifies as she embodies apologists for the system failures with a cynical detachment. With an affected nonchalance, she exerts a palpable diabolical presence that makes looking away from her piercing gaze as appealing as it is impossible.
Gerald Kyd (actor) moves in and out of roles like a greased mimic. One minute taking us deep into the mind of a man crossing the police tape at the gory scene of the 7/7 bus bombings, and the next making us laugh on an imaginary running machine. His commitment to the idea that he’s representing real people takes shape in his earnest attention to detail in his performance. His persistent charm lends pathos even to the characters that take us to the darkest places.
Amber Agar (actor) brings a welcome gentleness and compassion to an often troubling show. She and the rest of the cast succeed in tapping the essence of theatre. She doesn’t just tell us, she listens to us.
In fact, there is a description-defying feeling that Agar and the rest of the cast are allowing the audience’s energy to affect and inform their performance. They strike a bargain with the audience that animates all great theatre: we’ll engage with you on your terms if you’ll engage with us.
Stefano Braschi, Alice da Cunha and Beatriz Romilly play the family and friends of de Menezes. They colour the show with a convincing passion for de Menezes and his innocence.
The design crew creates pockets of engagement over the entire space with screens, documents and projections. Timothy Bird weaves these into the fabric of the play instead of imposing them on it.
Projecting images, video of the escalators at Stockwell station and television interviews on unused wall space, Bird completes the immersion into moments contained within the play’s world.
Tim Roseman and company’s This Much is True fires on all cylinders, driving you deep into the nerve centre of the de Menezes story. It cautions that vilifying police comes too easily, but so does looking the other way.
The actors take us down into Jean de Menezes’ seat on the train. In that seat, you’ll wonder what you would do if men with guns burst in and threatened you. Would you stay sitting down or would you stand up? Which would mean you’re guilty? Which would get you killed?
These are questions worth sitting at Theatre 503 and considering for an hour or so.
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