Pros: The cast are incredible. They presented the story of Paul Hill with sensitivity, and yet provided humour when it was needed to break the increasing intensity of the play.
Cons: The uncomfortable seating and a very hot room (with no space to take your layers off!) took my attention away from the play at times.
The play’s tag line, “Forget Making a Murderer”, did not mean much to me. I seem to be one of the few people not to have seen this series and so I went to this play with very few expectations. Theatre N16 is now in a new home at Balham, confusing if you Google the postcode in their name – they can’t afford to rebrand but had to move! The somewhat hard to find theatre is located on the top floor of The Bedford, a fantastic pub with many hidden rooms and gig venues.
We arrived five minutes before the start expecting to take our seats, however there was some delay in opening the theatre so the audience were crammed into a very small space for about ten minutes. Not an ideal start to the performance! After the delay the play started almost before we had sat down! For the first twenty minutes or so I have to admit I was not gripped. I think the play assumes you have some prior knowledge of the case, but being in my mid-twenties all the events took place before I was born and I haven’t come across this specific case before. The play centres on Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four who were jailed for life after the IRA bombings at two pubs in Guildford in 1974.
I found it hard to warm to Paul or sympathise with his situation, as having no prior knowledge I did not know the eventual outcome of the case. Apart from his own claims, there were no clues as to his eventual proven innocence. Whether this was something that was considered in the writing, or whether it was assumed that all audience members should know the background and history, was unclear.
However once I had become involved in Paul’s story I was hooked. The play is made up of a cast of two: Stefan McCusker who plays Paul and James Elmes who plays ‘The Rest of the World’, and he really does! Stefan is a brilliant actor; he showed Paul’s desperation and heartache during his time in jail so well. However James stole the show with his absolutely fantastic representations of various characters including judges, jury members, police officers, news-readers and even Paul’s partner.
He also did fantastic impersonations of Margaret Thatcher and the Home Secretary. Every now and then he broke the fourth wall but to brilliant effect; the fact that Jeremy Corbyn attended Paul’s wedding while he was in prison prompted a hilarious side comment to us, “Yes, Jeremy Corbyn!”. His sudden changes between characters were flawless, and his menacing presence loomed throughout the play.
The play is incredibly well written. For someone not aware of this piece of history, I left wondering why they were arrested in the first place and with an interest to do some more research. This is thought-provoking theatre at its best.
Author: Martin McNamara
Director: Jamie Alexander Eastlake
Producer: Jamie Alexander Eastlake and Sarah Chapleo
Booking Until: Thursday 5 May 2016
Box Office: 07969 138899
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/114421