When innocent Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell tube station on 22 July 2005, the initial public reaction was arguably sympathetic to the police – albeit largely due to media distortion of the events.
An ensemble of eight recreate 30 of the key players, including Cressida Dick, the officer in charge of the fateful operation, and the firearms officers responsible for the shooting. As so often with verbatim drama, it’s the revelation of bare fact that causes the greatest impact; it’s shocking to learn that the surveillance team on the day didn’t even know they were observing a block of flats as opposed to a house, thus mistakenly assuming de Menezes was walking out of the same address as their suspect.
For all Barry’s adept cutting of the transcripts, a downside to Sophie Lifshutz’s production is its tendency to caricature. Cressida Dick (Helen Worsley) is painted as nothing less than an ice queen, whereas the inclusion of testimony from de Menezes’ family seems peripheral and designed to heighten emotions that run perfectly high on their own. For a play that casts its audience as the jury, it at least owes the villains of the piece a fair trial.
It also fails to mention any of the aftermath of the inquest, and only programme notes record that several of the offending officers (including Dick) have subsequently been promoted. However, what it does do brilliantly is grant an on-the-ground view of the events as they unfolded, and help us to understand that the men who actually pulled the trigger (albeit rather over-zealously) were doing so out of blind panic.
Living as I do just a few minutes away from de Menezes’ flat in Tulse Hill, I know the journey he took that day very well. It’s a shuddering thought that it could have been any one of us, and indeed still could be in an age blighted by constant civilian surveillance.
Stockwell is an important play, one of three on the Fringe this year to deal with the case (a new project opening at Theatre503 in the autumn promises an examination of the aftermath). As we move further away from that dreadful July in 2005, it’s important to be reminded that, similar to any victim of terrorism, de Menezes died as a result of tragic misfortune and the frailty of human instinct.