The events surrounding the deaths of four young soldiers at the Deepcut Barracks is difficult source material indeed to fashion a play from and Philip Ralph and Mick Gordon deserve credit for what is obviously a painstaking endeavour to depict the sufferings of Cheryl James’ parents following her untimely death in 1995. Deep Cut is an angry and accomplished work that is only occasionally ineffective in instilling a proper sense of righteous indication in its audience.
In what is often a simply and efficiently told story, the two parents confront bland, dispassionate apathy and obstruction at every level of government. Both Pip Donaghy and Janice Cramer display a welcome lightness of touch in what could easily have been mawkish and overblown roles. They never seem to be in danger of letting the weighty subject matter get on top of them.
It is unfortunate therefore that the character of journalist Brian Cathcart often unbalances this delicate relationship. Cathcart himself deserves much credit for his indefatigability in campaigning for a public inquiry but his representation here serves little purpose other than to advance the narrative and seems flat as board compared with the rest of the fully formed cast. Ralph seems unsure whether to narrow right down on the Jones family or fill the piece with a forensic dissection of their battle for the truth. Ultimately, the play is most successful when it is micro in focus. Cathcart is a character too many for the emotion to get lost in. The rest of the supporting cast fare better, Amy Morgan’s Jonesy appears first as a ghostly echo of the lost Cheryl Jones and continues to inject short, absorbing anecdotes about life on the barracks with her friend.
Deep Cut rattles along at a hell of a pace. In a brief hour and a quarter we see several years in the lives of these characters. The play is at its best however when the action slows down and we can see the pain of Jones’ parents, not just their grief but their not knowing. I am torn slightly about why I didn’t like Deep Cut more than I did. It is a serious achievement to create so fleet a piece of theatre from the prosaic minutes of a House of Commons Select Committee, but at the same time in the rush to relay the whole saga some dramatic opportunities are lost. As a Roger Corman freak who believes that no film should be longer than 89 minutes and that the natural way to deal any difficult text is to blast through it as quickly as possible, it is a rare thing for me to say but I could have used more of Deep Cut. Lengthening the piece and taking the narrative foot off the throttle may have allowed all the elements to sit more comfortably beside each other.