Harold Shipman, Britain's most prolific serial killer was found guilty of murdering 15 of the patients in his Hyde doctor's practice, although he is thought to have killed over 200 people. Nobody really knows what his motive was and in January this year, Shipman took his secrets to the grave following his suicide.
Dame Janet Smith's Inquiry of 2001 attempted to explain how Shipman was able to escape detection. Dame Janet intends to submit her final report later this year. In the meantime, audiences in Manchester are able to debate the case all over again via this compelling piece of documentary theatre.
Dennis Woolf who has painstakingly edited the details of the inquiry acknowledges that we may never know the 'why' element of the case. But his play does highlight the flaws within the system which led to Shipman literally getting away with murder for such a long period of time.
Director Chris Honer coaxes such natural performances from his excellent cast that you could be forgiven for believing that you are watching the 'actual' inquiry. Romy Baskerville exudes authority as the seeker of truth, Dame Janet Smith. Cate Hamer rarely off stage as Caroline Swift QC also gives a wonderfully rich performance - remembering every minute detail of her character's case file. Joan Kempson gives a sympathetic portrayal of Primrose Shipman; shaking in disbelief on the stand, remaining completely loyal to her husband. The entire cast give faultless performances which lift this play, thus providing an emotional core to the detailed verbatim style of the piece.
At times it may seem dry but this is because we are used to the TV style docudrama which adds dramatic tension via music and montage editing at the cost of the facts. The play is full of powerful and shocking revelations like when you hear that Shipman used to print the names of his dead patients in the surgery newsletter. The freshness of the delivery enables you to feel that the material itself is indeed 'new.'
Like David Hare's Permanent Way this wonderful play lifts the lid on a reported event and looks at what lies beneath, providing the many people affected with a voice.
- Glenn Meads