The 1970s are often looked back on as time of great change in the UK, with some fabulous music to accompany the reminiscences but, if we remove the rose tinted spectacles for a moment we see that at least part of the UK was engaged in a civil war with the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland being at their height. Even on the mainland it was impossible to escape the violence from across the Irish Channel with attacks in both Guildford and Woolwich happening in 1974. Various people were arrested for these bombings and sentenced to life imprisonment and it it the story of one of them, that forms the basis for Martin McNamara’s new play Your Ever Loving part of Balham based Theatre N16’s season of in-house productions for 2016.
Based on letters written whilst in various jails throughout the UK Your Ever Loving tells the story of Paul Hill (Stefan McCusker), one of the infamous Guildford 4. He is in jail because he confessed to taking part in both the Guildford and Woolwich bombings as well as the murder of a British soldier. That confession sealed his fate and after being convicted of these heinous crimes, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. It seems that the Rest of the World (James Elmes) agree with the Judge passing sentence and various Home Secretaries refuse him leave to appeal his conviction, after all, he confessed didn’t he. Of course, as we now know, the confession was totally worthless. Extracted by the police using methods that at the very least were questionable but probably amount to torture – though as Paul himself says, it takes a lot of very well educated and erudite men to even define what that word means and funnily enough what happened to him doesn’t come within the definition. The story goes through until the final successful appeal of the Guildford 4 and Paul’s return after fifteen long years to the outside world.
Having been around during the ‘troubles’ and still remembering the various bombings of the time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to this production of Your Ever Loving and, if I’m honest, entering the auditorium, fashioned to look like a circus tent, didn’t really make me feel any better. Once the show started with James carrying Stefan onto the stage and arranging him in an almost mannequin like fashion, I started to understand what directors Jamie Alexander Eastlake and Sarah Chapleo were going for. It felt that the character of Paul was the main focus of a farcical circus of people and organisations determined to bring him down and keep him in prison for as long as they possibly could. Once he was arrested, the entire might of the state ensured that a confession was ‘extracted’ and taken through the criminal system to obtain a conviction stop the baying of a public out for revenge. In that respect, the entire production worked superbly.
Turning to the actors, Stefan McCusker is really great as Paul. The play is pretty much a monologue and initially, he seems bewildered at what has happened to him, but as the play develops, so does Paul’s character. He learns to accept the often extremely short notice moves between jails and the hostility and abuse of his guards,clinging on to the knowledge of his innocence and the love of his family to keep him sane. There is a lovely moment when it hits him that, in his case, life probably does mean life and he doesn’t have to worry about earning remission as there is none to be earned so he might as well make the most of his time and not worry too much about the attempts of the prison authorities, and at times other prisoners, as they try to break him. By the end, you know that paul has beaten the system by the strength of his personality and his will to always be there for his family. James Elmes is a total contrast to Stefan, possibly because of the sheer number of characters he plays – everyone from Joe public screaming for blood to an uncannily good Roy Jenkins – James brings life to each of them with a minimum of props, but with great style that really emphasises the farcical nature of the Establishment’s handling of this story. James is helped in this by his amazing range of facial expressions and, let’s be frank, pretty psychotic stare which he uses to great effect both with Paul and those members of the audience with whom he makes eye contact.
The final scene is pretty harrowing, and going by a conversation I overheard afterwards a bit controversial. The scene involved the methods used to get paul to confess. Now the reality is that very few people actually know what occurred during those interrogation sessions so what we see is probably told more from Paul’s recollection than anyone else’s. However, unfortunately the chances are it is a pretty accurate enactment of what occurred and the fact it happened in the civilised UK rather than some third world dictatorship makes it all the more difficult to watch. Luckily nowadays, things have moved on and such things couldn’t occur again could they?
Ultimately Your Ever Loving is a very powerful and thought-provoking play that can at times make uncomfortable viewing but is utterly compelling from start to finish.
Review by Terry Eastham
1974, Guildford. Pub bombs in Guildford and Woolwich murdered seven people and shocked the nation – but why were the wrong menarrested? Forget Making a Murderer – this new play by journalist and playwright Martin McNamara uncovers the holes in our own judicialsystem through the story of Paul Hill and the Guildford Four, directed by Jamie Eastlake.
After the Guildford and Woolwich bombings, Paul Hill and the Guildford Four were arrested and jailed for 15 years for crimes they did not commit, their convictions based solely on confessions extracted during brutal interrogation. Forensic evidence and witnesses that pointed to their innocence were never disclosed at the original trial. Detectives used violence, intimidation and threats to extract the confessions. It would take 15 long years of campaigning before the Four were exonerated and their convictions quashed.
Inside, Paul was beaten and brutalised; he was ‘ghosted’ (moved from prison to prison without notice) more than 50 times and spent a total of five years in solitary confinement. But he never gave up hope. Using the letters Paul sent to his mother and family over the course of his imprisonment, Your Ever Loving charts his fight to maintain his dignity and prove his innocence, as well as uncovering one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.
Paul Hill says, “It appears nothing has been gleaned from miscarriages of justice, especially those with political overtones. We live in an age where you can be subject to torture, while Ivy League educated politicians play verbal gymnastics with the meaning of the word.”
The play is written by Martin McNamara (2014 Royal Court Writers Group), a London writer and freelance journalist and radio producer, directed by Theatre N16 artistic director Jamie Eastlake, and stars Stefan McCusker as Paul Hill and James Elmes as The Rest of the World.
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