The subject of restorative justice is a tricky one that is likely to divide opinion. Tackling this dramatically presents an interesting challenge, and for an amateur group, an ambitious project. St Michael’s Players, from Chiswick, London, appear to be very much a ‘community’ drama group. Producing plays comes out of a commendable grass roots approach, with ‘social play readings’ forming the basis of their structure.
That said, bringing The Long Road to the Festival Fringe was maybe punching a little over their weight, and in the dry playing space (in the sort of venue I continually moan about in Fringe reviews) there were audibility issues for most of the actors. But the greater weakness was in the script itself, which didn’t give the players the dramatic tension necessary to convey this difficult subject.
We begin by hearing the views of each character in a series of soliloquys. While this helps establish the story – that a young man is knifed in a petty quarrel – and gives the reaction to his death from members of the family and the perpetrator, it makes for a very static opening section lasting nearly 15 minutes. In fact, the play is well beyond the hour that most Fringe plays run to.
The chief dramatic impetus comes from the idea that the mother, having discovered that her son’s murderer is involved in a prison workshop, wants to make contact with the young woman. Had this been introduced right at the start, there would have been tension over the reaction to this aspect, instead of the family simply warring over who felt the keenest grief at their tragedy. Mixed with this, there are some very odd moments of humour which jar against the pent-up atmosphere.
Playing the murderer, Emma, Fleur de Henrie Pearce portrays her as animated and garrulous, but the character’s tendency to fantasize adds confusion rather than clarity. We are therefore ‘told’ rather than ‘shown’ that she has had a tough background. When we discover that she hasn’t read the letters from the victim’s mother, it transpires that Emma has serious literacy issues.
It’s a nice touch, suggesting that the bereaved family might help her overcome this, but it’s more likely that this would be dealt with in prison programmes, rather than at visiting-time. Likewise, victim empathy is a key factor in prison therapy, therefore the awkward scenarios presented between family and perpetrator are unlikely to happen at this stage of restorative dialogue.
Given that the play came out of collaboration with something called The Forgiveness Project, that would have been a better focus than restorative justice.
Although the script doesn’t present things accurately enough to make a good case – one way or the other – for restorative justice, the actors bring a genuine passion to their parts. Furthermore, the staging and direction is straightforward and, despite a few timing issues, the lighting helps to change scenes effectively. This play will encourage people to talk about their reaction to violent crimes, whether in terms of forgiveness or restoration, and that’s no bad thing.
You can see The Long Road at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall from 31st July – 24th August at 5:35pm. For tickets, please visit www.edfringe.com