The Long Road

Shelagh Stephenson

Synergy Theatre in collaboration with the Forgiveness Project

Soho Theatre (Studio)

(2008)

Review by Suman Bhuchar

"I want to understand," says Mary (Denise Black), mother of Danny, a young man, who has been murdered by a girl coked out of her brains, to Elizabeth (Alison Newman), a trained counselor, who comes to visit the Pritchard family, some months after the tragic event.

"Understanding will change how you feel. This is the long road, you've chosen to go down," she is told.

Forgiveness then is the nub of this show, drawn from real life stories of victims and perpetrators of crime, with the writer and people from The Forgiveness project and Synergy Theatre, a company which works with prisoners and ex-prisoners towards rehabilitation.

Watching this at the Soho theatre studio, a claustrophobic space, is like being imprisoned - and the characters in the play almost certainly are: the family by their grief, and the prisoner by her crime.

When Danny is killed in a wanton act of violence, it is his family who is left to cope with the grief. The audience is given the reaction of all family members. His brother, Joe (Steven Webb) informs us that he was in a shop getting cigarette papers, "I saw this girl giving Danny a pinch, she walked off and I saw him crumple." His dad, John (Michael Elwyn) has taken up running, pounding the pavements as a way of getting away from it all, while, Mary, his mum, recalls the number of days he's lived - 6,693 - as "sheep counting for the bereaved".

They go from grief, to blame - "you shouldn't have left him in the street," says the father, to his younger son - to neglect, where the sibling left alive feels " I felt my future died with Dan".

It is the mother's character who propels the story forward - she finds a newspaper cutting, with an image of "her" - and invited Elizabeth into the family as a way of beginning to understand "why should she be alive when Danny's ashes are in an urn?"

Although, this is a tragedy, there are some dry touches in the writing. When asked to describe what she is like? "Damaged, fucked up, from time to time, she's also extremely funny?"

John replies; "Hasn't lost her sense of humour, the little fucker!"

"She" is Emma Price, played by a pale Michelle Tate, who is sullen, foulmouthed, damaged, from a dysfunctional family, and yes, funny. There is a whole scene with Elizabeth when she insists olives, are not a fruit - you have to see it!

Despite her "pitiful" family background, as the judge described it, I found myself unable to be sympathetic to why she committed this act of violence. However, the scene when Mary and Joe visit Emma in prison, is particularly moving. Of course, she hasn't read the letters which Mary has written - it's obvious she can't - but she does offer, "If I had my time over again, I wouldn't have done it."

Although the mother does not quite reach the compassion shown by Margaret Mizen (mother of murdered schoolboy, Jimmy, killed outside a bakery), she tries to "work towards something", while John wants to have his family's dignity restored. The show is well acted by the cast.

This play was written to be performed in prisons as well as theatres, says author Shelagh Stephenson, and I wonder how it raw emotions would be received in such an environment.

Until 5th June

Philip Fisher reviewed this production when it was revived in November, 2008