In 2007 Sam Hallam was sent down for life for the murder of Essayas Kassahun in a gang incident that he claims he wasn’t even at. Headed up by veteran campaigner Paul May, his plea has been appealed as his family and friends seek to overturn what they see has a gross miscarriage of justice.
Tess Berry-Hart has constructed a plea for the defence of Hallam in her new verbatim play. The ethics of this form of theatre are always a fine line to tread. How much are the artists ‘using’ the language of those they consult to their own ends? How can we claim that this is truth when editing is an essential part of any artistic process? How objective can any writer be who becomes entrenched in the lives of others?
With Someone to Blame these waters seem muddier than usual. In an overtly emotional response it is impossible not to feel manipulated by Berry-Hart’s one sided reconstruction of the events. The feeling that we are being shown propaganda does Hallam no favours because in all fairness the circumstances surrounding his plight do seem suspect.
a tightly constructed and pacey piece of work that weaves a myriad of voices into a compelling drama
There is a certain feeling of pressure to agree with the received wisdom on show here. At a campaign event or a money raising evening of entertainment this is understandable but Someone to Blame is being sold as a play and as such a certain level of objectivity is needed. Give us the facts and let us make up our own minds; the truth will out.
Technically Berry-Hart’s play is a tightly constructed and pacey piece of work that weaves a myriad of voices into a compelling drama. You can’t fault her structuring as she mixes interviews with monologues, balancing legal jargon and streetwise chatter with assured ease.
David Mercatali’s direction opens up the narrow space at The King’s Head and places us at the centre of the action. An enthusiastic ensemble bound around the stage and flip from surly eyewitnesses to composed lawyers with ease. Robin Crouch does a heartfelt job as Hallam; his bewilderment at the events around him and resolute belief in his own innocence is genuinely touching.
Hallam signs off a letter to his mother – ‘Ps I’m innocent’. Hopefully this is true, but Someone to Blame does not allow enough space for us, the audience, to decide whether this is the case.
Runs until 31st March