In 1975, Paul Hill was convicted for bombing two English pubs, along with three other people. Coerced into confessing by the police, the twenty-one year old from Belfast later retracted his confession but was found guilty and imprisoned with the others as IRA supporters. It wasn’t until 1989, long after his attempt to appeal had been denied, that investigators discovered police officers linked to the original case had altered evidence. The “Guildford Four” were released immediately, after 14 years inside.
Your Ever Loving chronicles Hill’s conviction, imprisonment and eventual release through the letters he wrote to his family over the years. One actor plays Hill, another plays numerous figures Hill encounters along the way. Martin McNamara’s frantic script cuts across years and locations, often leaving the audience in its dust and struggling to keep up. The cast of two display huge emotional investment in the characters, but the script’s pace, though stylistically distinct, is wanting in depth and focus.
Stevan McCusker is Paul Hill, who cuts a gentle young father and doting son as well as a prison-hardened thug who takes nothing from no one. McCusker’s quiet strength and fierce determination are charming immensely watchable. James Elmes is the often violent rest of the world, from fellow prisoners, to judges, to police and guards. Elmes provokes McCusker in dozens of short-lived fights, a clever manifestation of Hill’s lengthy battle to clear his name.
McNamara tries to fit a decade and then some into one act, but in doing so, he glosses over episodes that deserve more attention. Hill’s release is anti-climactic and rushed; the initial montage of moments (too short to be called scenes) is so fast that it confuses. Highlights of the fifteen years merge into one after awhile, creating a continuously evolving pilot point rather than separate ones. The structure constantly destabilises, along with the often maniacal caricatures painted by Elmes, but prevents any deeper exploration of Hill’s day-to-day life inside and after he’s realised.
Despite the script’s shortcomings, directors Jamie Alexander Eastlake and Sarah Chapleo do a commendable job at keeping energy high and recreating the sensory barrage of life at the hands of abusive wardens. A simple red brick wall set with political graffiti and notices is an ever-present reminder of the social and political upheaval during the height of IRA activity, and the inflexibility with which suspects were treated by the UK government – a wise design choice on the part of the two directors.
Your Ever Loving isn’t a great script, but it manages to hit some important historical socio-political points. Eastlake and Chapleo do their best, along with the two performers, but McNamara’s play is an ultimately unsatisfying gloss over a vital period of recent history and the government’s treatment of people wrongly accused in times of trouble.
Your Ever Loving runs through 5 May.
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