I studied at London Metropolitan and one of my lecturers was the excellent Jonathan Moore, now working in the Journalism department but when I studied History he was the Irish History lecturer and set up my long term fascination with the ever complicated story of Irish History, which includes famine, fascism and civil war amongst other things.
I mention this as Martin McNamara was inspired to write this play after finding Paul Hill’s letters in London Metropolitan’s Archive of the Irish in Britain’. Paul’s story wasn’t entirely unknown. As part of the Guildford 4 he was featured in ‘In the Name of the Father’ played by John Lynch in 1993. At the age of 21, with a child on the way, Paul Hill found himself sentenced to life in prison for terrorist offences he didn’t commit. McNamra’s script isn’t just a monologue of letters written by a young man to his mother and family but a depressing tale of how we have truly failed to learn from the past. This has a happy ending, Paul is now married to a Kennedy and has met the Obamas
Paul Hill is played by charismatic and compelling Stefan McCusker, who along with James Elmes (who plays everyone else) provides a compelling evening of drama. Elmes naturally stands out playing characters such as the police, the therapist, other prisoners, torturers but also historical figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Roy Jenkinson. It would be tough on any actor but Elmes, reminded me of a young Christopher Eccleston, and almost steals the show through his sheer range of characters and performance. That isn’t to belittle McClusker, who never leaves the stage and has the toughest role as the intelligent and pragmatic Hill,who knows he is innocent and missing out on the life his peers had but sees no way out. I thought McCusker’s move into a slight American accent (Hill married an American) was a really nice touch and I really hope to see these two young actors in more productions.
It is an important piece of work that deserves a far bigger audience but the theatre’s small space above the Bedford Pub in Balham makes the play more intimidating and more believable that we are in that cell with Hill, experiencing the lows but mainly the internal anger he builds up-anger over missing out on his daughter’s childhood, anger towards the police, the judiciary and his own guilt at putting his family through this. The most shocking and controversial element is the claim that Hill and others were tortured into making those confessions and their families were threatened. The police deny this but in the light of the continuing war on terror (Muslims, instead of Catholics) it isn’t that hard to disbelief that Hill’s recollection is inaccurate.