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Your Ever Loving (Theatre N16, London): Review

your ever loving Portrait of innocence. Stefan McCusker (front) as Paul Hill in 'Your Ever Loving'. Photograph: Andreas Lambis.

Scarily pertinent, blood-boiling, and fantastic theatre, Your Ever Loving is infuriating but not without a deep human sincerity beneath it.

Paul Hill was arrested and charged with being behind the infamous Guildford and Woolwich bombings by IRA supporters in 1975, along with three others: infamously known as The Guildford Four. Despite the only evidence to convict them were confessions extracted by torture, Your Ever Loving charts Hill’s wrongful imprisoned for 15 years.

your ever loving

Portrait of innocence. Stefan McCusker (front) as Paul Hill in ‘Your Ever Loving’. Photograph: Andreas Lambis.

Writing

Politics is always tricky in theatre. Fail to say anything new or from a different angle, and it’s dull. Be too angry about something that deserves to be angry about, and it’s still dull. Do away with the complexity of the issue for something easier and entertaining, and you do the subject a disservice. Your Ever Loving is one of those pieces of theatre that takes a subject from history and presents it with a sheen and depth that is frighteningly affecting, but with a theatricality that not only makes it memorable, but engages you fully in the subject matter.

The concept of Your Ever Loving is that it’s a near verbatim take on the letters sent by Hill to his family during his incarceration, thus telling about his ordeal from a personal and instantaneous point of view. What playwright Martin McNamara has done with these is arrange these in a way that’s dramatic and engrossing, and to create a whirlwind framing device to illustrate the actions and a world beyond his correspondence. The thing that strikes you most about Your Ever Loving is just how surprisingly sincere Hill is throughout. Although there are moments of anger and rebellion, the play charts Hill’s journey as someone who never stops fighting but almost always maintaining his cool. The fact that the letters are addressed to family brings out a gentle, but far from weak, charisma that is as rallying as it is touching. It’s an unprecedented and complex insight into life on the inside and at the receiving end of vitriolic racism and vicious politics. What’s most captivating is hearing Hill’s accounts and reactions to the world outside: Thatcher’s election, the Hillsborough disaster, U2’s appearance on the music scene. It illustrates that Hill is not a political caricature that is full of sound and fury, but a real life person that reminds us of just how inexcusable it is to falsely imprison someone so feeling, intelligent, and human as Hill.

McNamara frames and complements Hill’s letters with grotesque music hall/clowning interjections, adding a great sense of variety and often bringing out the nightmarish absurdity and injustice of Hill’s situation. However, its these moments that sometimes holds Your Ever Loving back. These interjections and interactions are something so ghoulishly neurotic that they can be just a little too distracting from the otherwise deeply thoughtful human drama through Hill as a character. These end up, at points, feeling a bit unnecessary or at times perplexing you about what is it these are trying to achieve. However, having someone read out and perform letters by themselves would lose its luster quite quickly, and elsewhere in Your Ever Loving these surreal and sardonic interludes sometimes really lift Your Ever Loving and adds to the burgeoning Reveille against such an inexcusable miscarriage of justice.

The fact that Your Ever Loving is so frighteningly current is just the icing on the cake. We’re seeing the same actions that led to Hill’s false conviction and imprisonment being taken in the name of the current “war on terror: with Guantanamo Bay being too close an echo on steroids to the UK’s response to the IRA. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, and no show illustrates this so passionately, damningly, and dramatically than Your Ever Loving.

your ever loving

Society made me do it! James Elmes as The Rest of the World in ‘Your Ever Loving’. Photograph: Courtesy of Andreas Lambis.

Direction & Production

Being the first in-house production of the newly moved Theatre N16, Your Ever Loving is certainly impressive. Felicity Reid’s design of brick walls, graffiti, and bill-poster front page hate-speech headlines frames a time and sentiment in which Hill is contending with. The sound design also brings the life Hill’s only window into the world beyond the walls, his radio, as well as some absolutely choice tracks from the decade and a half he spent in prison that capture a sentiment of frustration, poetic injustice, or the simply sublime.

As for Jamie Eastlake and Sara Chapleo’s direction, there is some real promise here. Eastlake and Chapleo seldom lets the continuity of Your Ever Loving stall, with scenes racing between each other, creating a maddening and oppressive pace. But, there is time and space to allow their cast, specifically Stefan McCusker as Hill, to get behind Hill’s letters and the circus of society, be it in softness or in fury. The result is a whiplash of juxtaposition that almost never falters right up until the end. However, there are a few moments which could do with tightening up. The torture scene transitions between one part to the next very clunkily, making it lose its violent impact. Likewise, some of the fight scenes happen too suddenly and quickly, meaning there’s not quite enough time for the fight sequences to really sink in. But these are small transgression to what is otherwise a production that really gets behind the writing seeking to make Your Ever Loving as effective, affecting, and pertinent as possible. As you leave Your Ever Loving, you exit troubled, ashamed, and riled: meaning Eastlake, Chapleo and their company have done their deed with roaring achievement.

Cast

Your Ever Loving has two actors who are certainly ones to watch. James Elmes as the surreal component, “The Rest of the World”, has an infectious and unapologetic energy and Schizophrenia. Elmes is intimidating, unpredictable, and rolls in with a thunderball energy from start to finish, with sarcastic and dry sensibilities that crystalises the script. At the same time, there is a real brutality when they turn from absurd emcee to violent and hate-filled person that is too believable to be comfortable to be around.

McCusker as Hill is outstanding, sinking deep into the sincerity and humanity of Hill’s letters. McCusker and makes them a seemingly integral part of their being and glows with a warmth that is charismatic and inescapable. There’s always the bristle of anguish and anger beneath the performance, but with a domineering control that you can feel put through its stresses and pushed to its limits. Reserved, but still intrinsically visceral, you can’t take your eyes off of McCusker, and neither can you disconnect from their performance of Hill’s story.

Verdict

An arresting piece of political theatre, Your Ever Loving demands it be seen and learned from.

Your Ever Loving plays at Theatre, N16, London, SW12 9HD, until 5 May 2015. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book, visit www.theatren16.co.uk.