Thursday, 2 February 2012

Execution of Justice 30th January 2012

Who's in it? Madeleine Bowyer, Georgia Buchanan, Maurice Byrne, Doron Davidson, Aidan Downing, Philip Duguid-McQuillan, Lindsay Fraser, Thomas Grube, Catherine Hammond, Kate Harper, Jasper Jacob, Christopher Lane, Ben Mars, Alex McSweeney, Mark Parsons, John Rayment, Michael Shane, Joyce Veheary, Aonghus Weber and Peter Wiedmann

Where did you see it? Southwark Playhouse, London Bridge

This is the first British professional production of Execution of Justice by Emily Mann since it was written in 1982 (with an original cast that included Wesley Snipes) and I am not sure, especially after Gus Van Sant's 2008 film Milk  why it has taken so long to get to the UK. Unlike Milk Execution of Justice looks at the assasination of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone through the eyes of their killer, Supervisor Dan White.

It focuses on why Dan White wasn't found guilty of murder by his peers and puts forward a number of possibilities, such the age of the jurors (many of the females were old enough to White's mother), religion with many of the jurors being Catholic and most worringly the exclusion of anyone with any sympaties to gay rights movement. The play certainly doesn't suggest the murder of Milk was simply a hate crime and the sentence of  only seven years (White served five) because Milk was openly gay. The play looks at all the reasons; White's relationship with the authorities (through his time as a policeman and supervisor) and the city's relationship with its mix of inhabitants.

The large cast manage to make the most of this small, noisy and damp space. Situated beneath London Bridge a lot of trains go overheard and it can be a distraction but luckily this play, at 105 minutes, is riverting with some stunning performances; particularly Christopher Lane as White's lawyer Douglas Schmidt, Ben Mars as the Prosecutor, Philip Duguid-McQuillan as Dan White and Aidan Downing as drag queen Sister Boom Boom (the role played by Snipes) and  stand out as performers to watch out for in the future.

A lot of reviews of this say that thirty years on this play has losts it impact. Emotionally, yes though the use of video showing the moment that Milk and Moscone's assassination is announced and the candle lit vigil by San Francisco's gay community never fail to be moving. The impact is lost because so many have done the story of Milk better, giving him a voice and a presence like the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk or Sean Penn's performance in 2008. Giving a voice to Dan White feels unfair, especially in the context that he got a very light sentence (though killed himself not long after release, perhaps with the awareness that a revenge killing was likely) but that fault lies with Mann, not the cast or direction in not the best of venues.

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