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Novel Review on The Long Road

Shelagh Stephenson first published 'The Long Road' in 2008. The play has themes of knife crime, drug addiction and homelessness, with links to restorative justice placed throughout it. The play has a didactic message, wanting an audience to conceive the inconceivable; that a mother who lost her child to murder was able to forgive and even help the person responsible. Stephenson was heavily influenced by restorative justice becoming more popular as it is a more humane approach to the criminal justice system. On February 8, 2008, the Nebraska Supreme Court determined that execution by electric chair was a "cruel and unusual punishment" under the state's constitution. This brought executions of this type to an end in Nebraska. This could be why Stephenson wanted to focus on restorative justice, as it was becoming a more civilised form of 'punishment' and was increasing in popularity. Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.
Stephenson intended to highlight the extent of knife crime, especially amongst the impoverished as well as make a comment on society, poverty and how people deal with grief. As part of her writing process, Stephenson spent many hours talking to victims and perpetrators of violent crime, visiting prisons and collaborating with the Synergy Forgiveness Project, a charity working in the fields of reconciliation and restorative justice. Established in 2000, Synergy Theatre Project works towards rehabilitation and resettlement with prisoners, ex-prisoners and young people at risk of offending through theatre and related activities whilst placing the wider issues surrounding criminal justice in the public arena. From a study released in 2008, restorative justice led to:
a 14% reduction in the rate of reoffending.
85% of victims were satisfied with the process of meeting their offender face to face, and 78% would recommend it to other people in their situation.
62% of victims felt that restorative justice had made them feel better after an incident of crime while just 2% felt it had made them feel worse.
For every £1 spent on delivering a face to face meeting, £8 was saved through reductions in reoffending.
The play seems more relevant now than it did in 2008 as "Knife crime with injury rose from 3,500 offences in 2008/09 to 4,700 in 2017/18, an increase of 34%."
We chose the extract as I felt Ella and I would be able to explore the complexities of the relationship between Elizabeth and Emma, despite having a minimal dialogue between them. Our scene falls in the middle of the play, after finding out about Mary, John and Joe's struggles coping with the murder of Danny. It is also set in a prison which is the first time in the play that this occurs, contrasting with the other scenes that are mostly set in the home of Mary and her family. The play is naturalistic in style, focusing on the characters and their narrative arc rather than over-exaggeration. Naturalism refers to theatre that attempts to create an illusion of reality through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies. To help us establish the naturalistic style and develop our understanding of the characters, we used the techniques of Katie Mitchell within our rehearsal process. One of the early exercises we used was hot seating, this allowed us to build up a character story that wasn't necessarily shown within the script, but gave us a better understanding of them.
Ella asked me questions like "do you have children?" to which I answered: "no I am unable to have children which is why I took such an interest in Emma's case. I wanted to help her, it has a maternal aspect to it." and "how do you truly feel about Emma?" to which I answered that "I cared for her however thought her angry outbursts seemed unnecessary at times". Questions like these allowed me to create a character so that I could conduct myself in a way that I saw Elizabeth would. This helped me to establish a more fleshed out character that, if we messed up within the script, I could react in a way that Elizabeth would, moving the piece along. It also helped with my movement as a character, making them slower and more considered with a higher sense of compassion than I usually do, creating a perception of sympathy from Elizabeth. We also made a list of facts and questions that would help us establish the main intentions of the play but also what an audience member may question whilst watching our performance (see appendix for full list).
Within rehearsal, one thing we struggled with was keeping the tension but allowing a rise and fall within it, creating moments of sympathy alongside moments of anger. We were able to combat this by using the Katie Mitchell technique of creating 'events' on the script to mark where there were rises and falls and to make sure it was somewhat equal. This was also helpful to show the shifts in power dynamics and emotion within the scene, allowing us to create a piece that was not dull and that an audience would be invested in. A breakthrough moment for us was when we were able to add small character traits to our characters that gave our performance a heightened sense of authenticity and naturalism. A character trait that I added was that Elizabeth played with a wedding ring whilst talking to Emma. I wanted to convey that she may have been uncomfortable speaking with Emma as she becomes aggressive and so relies on the comfort of her wedding ring being on her finger.
A note that we received is that we need to project more whilst on stage so that the audience can hear us. The way that we were able to combat this was standing across each other in a room and saying our lines so that we were able to practice being loud but also being able to remain sincere. Something that helped me with characterisation is getting into costume.
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