The Listening Room

The Listening Room

How many of us would want to talk to someone who had gone to prison for the senseless killing of our son, or been locked up after, just for fun, smashing us up with a baseball bat and knocking out our teeth?

Well, here in this first full-length play by Harriet Madeley are the stories of five people – victims and perpetrators – who sat down together years after the dreadful crimes, the trials and prison sentences were over.   

And given that the conversations they had were about death and the destruction of lives, what’s inescapable is the power that the process clearly has to change lives. 

This play certainly changed my perception of restorative justice, which brings those harmed by crime and those responsible into communication, to try to repair some of the harm done and find a positive way forward.

Vi and Ray Donovan’s was a perfectly ordinary family, until their son Chris was brutally attacked by a gang of young thugs and they had to try to cope with his death, the trial of his killers, and finally meeting them.

They were at the first night of The Listening Room, sitting in the front row to hear their words spoken by actors,  as well as those of streetattacker, Jacob Dunne, who threw the fatal punch in a gang attack on James, whose family turned off his life support, saw Jacob jailed for manslaughter and finally agreed to meet him.

It was an emotional night as the Donovans watched Kathryn Worth and Mark Knightley portray their story, along with a fine performance from Tony Hasnath, as the now reformed Jacob Dunne.

It is a measure of the determination of this couple to create something constructive out of the tragedy of losing Chris, that they took a question and answer session at the end of the play.  This was, they felt, a fitting tribute to their son and they were glad to see their experience portrayed with a gritty reality, not pity.

And as for Tim Isherwood (played by Bruce Panday), attacked with a baseball bat on a late night station platform and left bloody and with teeth missing, why would he want to meet the drug-fuelled  Khamran Uddin (played by Charmaine Wombwell) whose entertainment of choice was attacking the vulnerable?

In the event, the one who was scared of the meeting was Khamran, now with a life turned around, an apprenticeship, a future and a perception of the harm done, the need to change.

That is what this play, these true life stories impart – the two young men you would expect to be blasé, delinquent and  irredeemable, have become people so different to who they were at the time of the crime.  Jacob is studying criminology at university, a reluctant poster boy for restorative redemption.

And the victims have helped in this type of transformation, rather than picking up their own baseball bat or throwing punches.  Do not imagine there was not anger, that is all there, but it is no longer ruling their lives.

Said playwright Harriet Madeley:” I spoke to ten victims of crime before writing The Listening Room.  I was actually looking for some with a negative experience of meeting the perpetrators but, in fact, all found it positive and hugely beneficial.

“There is, of course, a lot of mediation with professionals, who have to be convinced that both sides are ready to meet.  In the lives of those portrayed in the play, the meeting has been transformative and I felt privileged to tell their stories.”

Those stories will also be watched in coming performances, or have already been watched, by young offenders and others who have been victims and perpetrators and have similarly met to find a way forward.

It may not always be the way forward but it is clearly a big step in the right direction.

The Listening Room, a new Verbatim play from the Brave Badger Theatre Group, which creates plays dealing with modern-day issues,  is at The Old red Lion Theatre, Islington, until 4th March.  For tickets visit tickets:

Patricia McLoughlin