With the outrage over Salman Rushdie and The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons of Mohammed and Jerry Springer: The Opera, freedom of speech has been the focus of several high-profile controversies in the past few years. It is also at the heart of Ryan Craig's new play, The Glass Room, which opened last night at the Hampstead. Kathryn Merritt was there.
Young human rights lawyer Myles (Daniel Weyman) has been hired to defend the notorious historian Elena (Sian Thomas). As they discuss the case at the police safe house where Elena is kept, the dark nature of her crimes becomes clear – Elena is a Holocaust denier. During their often heated meetings, Myles and Elena argue and debate the facts of the case, with Myles ultimately questioning his belief in the right to free speech.
Running parallel to this is the relationship between Myles and his new flatmate/landlord, Tara (Emma Cunniffe), a journalist. While they are trying to find common ground, Myles increasingly brings his work home with him, involving Tara in a way he couldn't have forseen.
As the action switches between the intense discussions of the safe house and the domestic upheaval at Myles and Tara's flat, we see the evolution of Myles, who is forced to confront his beliefs and his own Jewish identity (an identity he conceals from his client).
The production raises questions about the complex issue of freedom of speech. Is everyone allowed their say, even if their ideas are abhorrent to others? Or just plain wrong? As the critical thinker Noam Chomsky stated: "If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all."
The Glass Room runs at the Hampstead until 23 December.