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Burden of Proof by Ian Dixon Potter at the White Bear Theatre

If we cannot trust the police, who can we trust? It’s a fitting question given that public confidence in the service appears to be at an all-time low. Perhaps a series of high-profile cases of gross misconduct within the force has something to do with that. In Burden of Proof, writer Ian Dixon Potter is keen to unearth the injustices that result from those who abuse their power. Within the first minutes, Potter lights a match, which allows for a smouldering slow burn of a play.

The cast of Burden of Proof at the White Bear Theatre.
The cast of Burden of Proof at the White Bear Theatre.

DS Dunderdale (Neil Summerville) is the type of old-school copper who gets off on spouting casually racist remarks. He is hell-bent on convicting Joseph Wade (John Lutula) for the brutal murder of two teenage boys. Wade happens to be black. Desperately clawing at any angle that might lead to Wade being found guilty, it is not justice Dunderdale seeks, but self-promotion. The man is on a power trip and despite it being a rather key aspect of his job, neglects to consider all the evidence with a balanced, open mind. His mind is already made up and with his standing in the force, he has access to people who can help him manipulate things to fit his narrative.

The set consists only of a table and four chairs. This permits the action to move between a police interview room and office to the courts via the home of the parents of one of the victims. There are swift scene transitions with Summerville anchoring the action as he tells us his story. This is an incredibly word-heavy play which of course renders the pace a tad sluggish on occasion and at times we are simply craving a little more visual action.

Summerville succeeds in engaging us. Despite how unlikable his character is, we cannot help but be drawn in by the actor who truly impresses. He also garners some laughs when the character appears slightly drunk in one scene. But the humour is thin here and with such subject matter, rightly so.

A courtroom scene injects some momentum and with the house lights briefly on, we become the jury, although we of course already know who we believe in. That person is gifted a passionate speech as we fast forward in time. Lutula conveys so much pain, anger and sadness in this brief but memorable scene that sums up exactly what the play is about.

Kieron Riddell convinces as he switches between various roles while Elizabeth Orekoya as Wade’s sister is also compelling considering what little stage time she is afforded. Francesca Anderson and Diljohn Singh provide strong support to complete the cast.

So many men and women are still being wrongly convicted due to police incompetence and the force choosing to save face rather than admit to error. Burden of Proof is a lot to absorb in a relatively short period, but we are left deeply provoked, although sadly not at all surprised by what we have witnessed.

4 stars

Review by Jonathan Marshall

Detective Sergeant Dunderdale is on the brink of solving a bloody murder but is there enough evidence to convict Joseph Wade? Dunderdale is determined to secure a conviction by fair means or foul. After all, isn’t it acceptable to bend the rules a little if the only alternative is for a dangerous killer to walk free?

The Company
Neil Summerville
John Lutula
Kieron Riddell
Francesca Anderson
Elizabeth Orekoya
Diljohn Singh

Burden of Proof
Written by Ian Dixon Potter
Directed by Phoebe White
21st May – 1st June 2024


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