Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Deep Cut - Lowry Theatre, Salford

Deep Cut
Writer: Philip Ralph
Director: Mick Gordon
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

Verbatim drama ‘Deep cut’, produced by Welsh new writing company Sherman Cymru, centres around the real life account of 18 year old private general Cheryl James who, along with 3 other young soldiers between the years 1995 and 2002, died from gunshot wounds at the Deep Cut army barracks, Surrey.

Throughout this 75 minute long production, the central tale of parental grief is widened into a shocking and fierce political commentary upon the incompetence, corruption and downright refusal of the MOD to offer any truthful or accountable reason for the deaths. The audacity that this still hasn’t been resolved 14 years after the initial death of private Sean Benton in 1995 is further highlighted on exit of the theatre, as ushers issue written pleas for the public to insist, through their local MP’s, on government protection of future army recruits by fully publicising all the police and army reports relating to Deep Cut.

This production comes with a clear message; that Cheryl’s grieving parents’ refusal to merely accept the very questionable government, MOD and police line that their daughter Cheryl committed suicide, will not go away without a fight. Philip Ralphs sharp and engaging writing coupled with Mick Gordon’s slick and well paced direction proves ultimately that in this case theatre is succeeding where journalism ultimately ‘dropped the ball’. It would take an extremely apathetic theatre goer not to be stirred to indignation by the torment that all four families have had to face in their acceptable demand for the truth surrounding their children’s untimely deaths under the care of the army authorities.
Gordon’s direction utilises fully Igor Vasiljev’s multi-functional stage design throughout the production. The gradual clutter of memories which had been locked away in boxes in an attempt by the parents ‘to start living again’, along with journalistic scrawling on the wall and an ever increasing abundance of flowers, poignantly suggests the ultimate havoc that Cheryl’s death imposed upon the family home and unit.
The performances of the six strong cast are also generally impressive. Derek Hutchinson and Robert Wilcox both display strong versatility skills taking on a variety of contrasting roles whilst Simon Molloy gives a solid performance as Nicholas Blake QC.

The three central roles of Des, Doreen and Jonesy are played competently and comfortably by Pip Donaghy, Janice Cramer and Amy Morgan. Despite some inconsistencies in her welsh accent, Morgan brings an endearing energy to the part of Cheryl’s friend and colleague and there are some truly touching, if not a little rushed, glimpses created by Donaghy and Cramer that temporarily push the politics to one side and reveal the true effect that Cheryl’s death has had on Des and Doreen’s state of minds and relationship throughout this 14 year ordeal.

The lightning fast pace of these more tender scenes would be my only real criticism of this ultimately impressive piece of Verbatim theatre. Of course it is understandable to presume that this was intended so as to not over-sentimentalise the production and keep the message clear and engaging. However one cannot help think that a reduction in the pace at these heart-breaking moments of unfeigned emotion from the central characters would have packed an even stronger punch to such a charged and powerful production.

Photos: Toby Farrow
Runs until Sat 26th Sept
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