Friday, 14 November 2014

Compelling drama State Red addresses police killings in unique way

The excellent play, State Red, takes an original approach to deaths in police custody. The ingenius plot involving just four actors, revolves around the shooting of a black man by a black man, only the one doing the shooting is a police officer. Atiha Sen Gupta’s story starts when the shooter, Luke, returns home after a year away. During that time, he has been to see the family of the man he killed. He returns to a scene where his parents and best friend, and fellow police officer, Mathew, are returning from a police event – his father is going to be confirmed as commissioner the next day. The different layers of the play then address a myriad of issues, including police canteen culture, the hurt and suffering of the family of the dead man and perhaps uniquely the damage done to the police officer who did the shooting.

The play gets right below the surface of an ongoing issue in our society, which shows no sign of resolution, with more than 1,000 people dying in police custody since 1990. Families continue to lose loved ones and police officers continue to fail to be brought to account – the result more deaths. Even when inquest juries bring in unlawful killing verdicts nothing seems to happen. State Red addresses the issue in a truly unique way, bringing together so many elements of the problem in dramatic form. The only qualification is that I have never met a policeman like the character Luke but then maybe that is the point.

There are excellent performances from Samuel Anderson (of Dr Who fame), Maxine Finch, Geoff Leesley and Toby Wharton. Atiha Sen Gupta has certainly produced a great follow up to her debut play, What Fatima Did, which was performed at the Hampstead Theatre in 2009. State Red has been three years in gestation, no doubt drawing on the shooting by police of Mark Duggan in London in 2011 and subsequent events. This is a play well worth seeing, if you enjoy contemporary cutting edge drama dealing with real issues of social justice in today’s world.

*State Red plays at the Hampstead Theatre until 6 December



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