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Stockwell: The inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes

Amelia Nallamilli reviews the play that pieces together the final hours in the life Jean Charles de Menezes

September 23, 2009
3 min read

Four years after Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by the police, this shockingly fascinating play, using edited transcripts from the 2008 inquest into his death, wrenches anger, sadness, despair and a few chuckles of disbelief from the Tricycle Theatre audience.

Stockwell is the latest in the acclaimed series of verbatim tribunal dramas at the Tricycle, and holds its own against such weighty predecessors as Srebrenica: the UN rule 61 hearings, Bloody Sunday and Guantanamo: honor bound to defend freedom.

Ably assisted by a fine cast of eight actors, each playing multiple parts, we are walked through the balanced facts by writer Kieron Barry and director Sophie Lifschutz, the team behind the acclaimed Deepcut: scenes from an inquiry.

Despite so few actors representing over 30 people, it is a merit of this production that we are always clear if we’re hearing from a member of the firearms or surveillance teams, witnesses, Jean’s friends or control room officials. And a sparse set of a few grey chairs allows you to concentrate on the often fast and furious detail of the words without distraction.

Helen Worsley, the only woman in the cast, so skillfully elicits contrasting feelings towards each of the characters she portrays, that you forget the same actor is playing them all. We feel frustration and worse towards her as the unrepentant Commander Cressida Dick, the officer in charge. But our feelings change to warmth and sorrow as she plays one of Jean’s likeable Brazilian friends recounting humanising details of what he was like.

Jack Klaff is unforgettable as human rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC representing the de Menezes family, deftly exposing what, he suggests, was the incompetence and chaos that ruled on the day of the shooting and a subsequent cover-up. His wry style is the cause of frequent bouts of baffled laughter from the stunned audience, as one incredulous blunder after another unfolds – it would be far-fetched farce, if not entirely true.

In the play, Mr Mansfield asks Commander Dick how she reacted when the firearms team commander told her the details of this killing. She answered: ‘I don’t think I had any reaction, sir. He was giving me information. I was not surprised.’

Commander Dick staunchly refused to accept that the Metropolitan Police might have made even one mistake. She also seemed incapable of empathising. Would she consider the loss of innocent life just another unfortunate but par for the course statistic if it was her son who had been killed?

She said: ‘Given what I now know and what I was told at the time, I wouldn’t change those decisions.’

Since this inquest, Cressida Dick has been promoted twice – much to the torment of the de Menezes family – and is now Scotland Yard’s Assistant Commissioner. Two Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations into the shooting concluded that no disciplinary action would be taken against any officer involved.

The jury returned an open verdict on Jean’s death and this play presents both sides of the case without drawing any conclusions. But while we all know shards of information about what happened on the 22 July 2005, this cohesive and clear piecing together of the evidence makes for an informative and unsettlingly riveting depiction of a devastating situation that police admit could happen again.

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