Your Ever Loving

Martin McNamara
Theatre N16

James Elmes and Stefan McCusker
James Elmes
James Elmes and Stefan McCusker

In October 1975 Paul Hill and three others were convicted mainly as a result of confessions of bombing two pubs in Guildford which killed five people and injured sixty-five. The four claimed that the confessions were false and had been gained by torture. Paul Hill said that not only did they make threats about his partner but "I was stripped naked and threatened with firearms and mock executions. I was told I would be thrown from a window."

About fourteen months later, the IRA unit caught in the Balcombe Street siege admitted at their trial that they had planted the Guildford bombs. Despite this, the Guildford Four were to remain in prison for fifteen years.

Martin McNamara has constructed a very moving play from the letters Paul Hill wrote to his family during those years. Stefan McCusker gives an impressive performance as the articulate and often witty Hill. His warm, conversational style is thoroughly engaging.

However, the experience spoken about is unpleasant and absurd. In court, the policeman he insists tortured a confession out of him claims that he thought the suspect liked him. Prison officers spit into his food. He is constantly switched from one prison to another, spending time in fifty prisons over the period of fifteen years. Often he would be suddenly "ghosted" from a prison in the middle of the night, though, given the noise of the process, it was hardly a secret.

He clearly has strong positive feelings for his family and partner. Constantly in his letters, he has an eye for raising their spirits. Yet, when in the Hull prison riot, he gets an opportunity to see his file he finds there is a recommendation that his relationship with his partner is ended and that he is listed as a suicide risk.

Even as doubts about the safety of the verdicts mounted, some politicians were alert to anything that could look like decent treatment for terrorists. When the governor of Long Lartin prison gave permission for the marriage of Paul Hill to Maria Seranville, there was condemnation in the Commons and demands to know who attended the ceremony. One person who didn’t hide the fact he attended the marriage was the MP Jeremy Corbyn.

The show conveys something of the madness of the fifteen years through the manic performance of James Elmes as all the other characters from abusive guards to politicians such as Thatcher. His appearance almost always carried a touch of menace.

This is an entertaining show. It reminds us how disastrously flawed the justice system can be at a time when the government is attempting with various controversial policies another war on terror. These include the 2012 Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures which can operate outside the court system and allow electronic tagging and restrictions on where you might be and who you might see and potentially last an unlimited time.

Paul Hill was innocent and is now free to try and live a normal life. The process that inflicted such a terrible injustice should never be repeated.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna