Four years after the death of their young daughter, Petra and Jimmy agree to meet Leon, the joy-rider who caused the fatal accident, as part of a restorative justice programme. For Petra, the whole process is flawed: what can sitting in a room with the man who ‘murdered’ six-year-old Charlie possibly restore? Certainly not her child. Jimmy, consumed by guilt because he gave in to his daughter’s demands to sit in the passenger seat, is hoping it will at least offer him and his wife a way to communicate about their grief. For Leon, whose co-twocker Freddie was also killed in the crash, it’s all a part of doing his time, but only if he gets to ask some questions of his own.
By beginning with fractured memories and snippets of moments from each of the characters’ lives before and since the accident, writer Julian Armistead creates the space for a gradual, credible build of each perspective. So that as the fragments start to overlap and coalesce, until the three are finally in a room together, the clash of worldviews and class is to the fore but their individual arguments are completely convincing. The sparseness of the production – some chairs, a strip of utilitarian carpet redolent of the municipal building – encourages total immersion in the words, because this is all about listening, about really understanding someone else’s position. And about having compassion for someone else’s poor choices.
As Petra, the only character initially fully able to access their emotions, Rebecca Hulbert brandishes rage like a cold, hard shield; Petra is impervious to appeals, and as such is stuck in a cycle of pain that has her walking the same patch of carpet, round and round, as she recalls the moment her world dropped away. Benjamin Symes gives us a subdued Jimmy, as if smothered by his own guilt, but it is Danny Mellor’s performance as Leon that really lifts the piece, subtly shifting between bravado and aggressive defiance, emotional trauma, guilt and need, all building and building until when he breaks, it comes from so deep inside him that it is the single most powerful moment of the play.
While it’s a clear production decision to allow the text to take centre stage, at times the production feels a little too pared back – there are projections that come and go on a screen behind the actors, but they barely register – and a more energised performance from Symes would give Jimmy the bigger presence that’s suggested in the script. However, the piece is both moving and honest, especially in implying that the RJ process is no guarantee of catharsis.