Harold Shipman, known to his many patients, family and friends as ‘Fred’, was Britain’s worst serial killer. The official inquiry into his crimes found that over a quarter of a century he had been responsible for the death of more than 200 men, women and children and that there were likely to be many, many more victims. One of Shipman’s victims was Renée Lacey, whom he murdered on the 6th of June 1996 and in a powerful new play, The Quality of Mercy, Renee‘s grandson the writer and performer Edwin Flay provides a beguilingly compelling study of the man responsible.
Presented at the Courtyard Theatre, the stage is almost bare. There is a table, a chair, a metal mug and a tape recorder; and looming behind is a massive blank, black wall. And there is Shipman, seated and motionless on his bed. A subtle and extremely effective soundscape confirms that this is Wakefield Prison. In 2004. Shipman wants – needs – to record his own story. Not a confession but a narrative that amounts to a claim for expiation, which is intended to be understood alongside ‘The Shipman Inquiry’, Dame Janet Smith’s 5,000-page report.
Flay wrote and stars in the play. His performance is riveting, and meticulous in every respect. As Shipman, he recounts the steps in his career – in medicine and in terms of crime – and throughout the audience is reminded that real people died at Shipman’s hands, including Renee Lacey. Shipman explains his motivation and how he was able to achieve what he achieved: the systemic weaknesses in the framework of healthcare; and the mistakes and misjudgments made. In a programme note, Flay explains that his aim was to understand more about the man who killed his grandmother, and the play sets out what he came to conclude. This is theatre vérité at its best. And it is also a sobering fable about the motives that lead people into the medical profession and what can result if truth is allowed to be obscured by trust.
Not to be missed
Review by Louis Mazzini
From his cell in the early hours of the morning, Dr Harold Shipman records a confessional tape, tracing his journey from a doting son and ambitious doctor to one of the most prolific and notorious serial killers in history.
Contains repeated descriptions of murder, and suicidal ideation.
This is a 14+ event
Produced by Sarah Lawrie for Nailed Productions, in association with The Courtyard Theatre