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Burden of Proof (Susan Elkin reviews)

Burden of Proof

By Ian Dixon Potter

Directed by Pheobe White

Golden Age Theatre Company

White Bear Theatre

Star rating: 4

Last year Andrew Malkinson’s 2003 rape charge was finally quashed because DNA evidence, which could have been checked years earlier, was matched to another man. He had served 19 years in prison. The enquiry into the mismanagement of this case is ongoing. I’m pretty sure Mr Malkinson’s experience was the inspiration for Ian Dixon Potter’s hard hitting play although, of course, the Malkinson case was, and is, far from unique.

We meet DS Dunderdale (Neil Summerville)  who talks a lot to the audience. He is determined to get Joshua Wade (John Lutula) convicted for the murder of two teenage boys. So convinced is he of Wade’s guilt – racism and Islamophobia are part of the reason – that he is prepared to cut corners to achieve the outcome he wants which includes a promotion for himself.  Of course, after a rather good trial scene Wade is found guilty by a majority verdict but – shift forward a decade or two and the truth emerges. Yes, of course, there was DNA evidence which cleared him and identified a different man as the killer.

Summerville gives an outstanding performance. He nails the dogged, blinkered prejudice of a certain sort of policeman perfectly, complete with the slightly whiny voice. At one point he’s off duty with a glass of wine – clearly not the first – and he does slight drunkenness very well too. It’s alarmingly convincing and the thought that a man like this can have so much unchecked power and be so manipulative is very disturbing.

Lutula makes Wade very believable too, answering questions in interview with nonchalant, impatient cockiness because he knows he’s innocent. He’s also more intelligent than Dunderdale. Then at the very end we see him bespectabled and older giving a moving press conference. He’s a talented actor.

Of the other four actors in the support cast, Keiron Riddell is particularly strong. He multi-roles as a Geordie prison lag willing to lie for privileges, an outraged father of one of the murdered boys and a Scottish prosecuting barrister. I particularly admired his voice work.

This is a word-dependent play. The set comprises little more than a table and three or four metal chairs as we move from interview room to court or from someone’s sitting room to Dunderdale’s office. There are no gimmicks. It’s just compelling stuff which forces you to listen in horror. Have we really reached the point when it’s perceived to be better to deprive an innocent person of years of his or her life than that the authorities be held in disrepute? I hope not but …

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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