Deep Cut by Philip Ralph shows the power of theatre, in that it not only entertains but can also provoke debate and even outrage. Based on verbatim interviews and transcripts it raises questions about the deaths, by bullet wounds, of four young recruits at the Deepcut army training barracks in the period from 1995 to 2002.
The play focuses on the efforts of Des and Doreen James (Pip Donaghy and Janice Cramer) to make sense of the death of their daughter Private Cheryl James. Director Mick Gordon does not give just a literal reproduction of the interviews but uses Des and Doreen to illustrate the human cost of the events at Deepcut and also the obstacles that individuals face when challenging official decisions.
The James family encounter great frustration, as the authorities are quick to conclude that the deaths at the Barracks were suicides attributable to the personal problems of the individuals and not the result of systemic failures within the army or even homicides.
The set, by Igor Vasiljev, represents the strain experienced by the families. An ordinary living room becomes increasingly abstract; swamped in paperwork and the walls covered in graffiti listing the facts that were ignored by investigators. The body language and broken speech patterns of Donaghy and James shows the terrible impotence that is generated by years of apparently fruitless struggle against a system that shows little respect for the individual.
Amy Morgan, as Cheryl’s army buddy, gives a conflicted performance being horrified by the events at the barracks and the official findings yet guiltily convinced that the army helped improve her life.
The main impact of the play is how it illustrates the Catch –22 faced by people seeking redress against the authorities. As it is the authorities that dictate the rules of the debate the balance is far from equal. The play suggests that complainants should not co-operate with behind the scenes investigations but insist on public inquires.
Yet when a forensics expert does just that, it prevents hard evidence suggesting homicide from being considered. It seems, therefore, that complainants have little option but to make the most of the limited opportunities they are offered. As with the recruits at Deepcut they, and we, deserve much better.
Deep Cut is one of the most effective pieces of verbatim theatre. It might make you upset or even angry and powerless but it will also move you.