Using solely the verbatim transcripts from the inquest into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the creators of Stockwell have devised a gripping and powerful piece of theatre.
Stockwell premiered at the Landor theatre, just down the road from the events of 22 July 2005, when the Brazilian electrician de Menezes was shot by Special Firearms Officers in a tube carriage at Stockwell underground station. Its transfer to North London’s Tricycle theatre – entirely appropriate given the theatre’s history of presenting verbatim works – allows a wider audience to see this fascinating piece of theatre, which is all the more astounding because it is based entirely on truth.
Director Sophie Lifschutz and eight actors take us back to the events of that day, two weeks after the devastating bombings of 7 July 2005 and the 24 hours after the attempted bombings of 21 July. Speaking the words of over 30 witnesses at the inquest, edited by Kieron Barry, the actors depict the police officers involved, the friends of de Menezes, the passengers in that tube carriage and the firearms officers who shot the Brazilian nine times in the head. Though the names of those witnesses are not always revealed, the structure of the piece and the multi-role casting works smoothly.
The questioning is led by Jack Klaff as Mr Mansfield, the counsel to the de Menezes family, and Kevin Quarmby as Sir Michael Wright, the Coroner. They draw out from the witnesses a detailed portrait of the events of that day that seems, in hindsight, incredulous and yet at the same time entirely believable.
It is an evenly drawn portrait; it illustrates the panic and fear that simmered in London in those days after 7/7 and 21/7, a time when the amount of suspicious packages reported by the general public had increased ten-fold, and it takes into account the limited time police had to mount a huge operation after linking one of the suspected 21/7 bombers to a flat in South London. Yet the overall picture that emerges from these verbatim transcripts is one of human fallibility. The surveillance teams did not have a decent picture of the suspect and dithered over making an ID of de Menezes, who had the misfortune to live in the same block of flats; there were major intelligence failures about the block of flats and the area; the firearms officers arrived late meaning de Menezes was not stopped before he reached the tube; radio communication between surveillance officers and the control room was crackly – did they say ‘I think it’s him’ or ‘I think it could be him’? That it might have come down to semantics and bad radio reception is particularly heartbreaking.
Helen Worsley depicts the key player in the drama, Commander Cressida Dick, the decision maker on the day. Confident and unwavering in her assertion that the police acted correctly, her steadfastness cannot outweigh the impression that there were too many cooks with too many opinions who were not communicating properly with each other.
The inquest ended with an open verdict. Stockwell allows us to make up our own minds, based on the very words that were spoken. Poignant and at times shocking, it uncovers the tragic truth that no one, however well trained, however powerful, is immune to human weakness.