For many years I assumed helping people through legal support and political campaigning was more worthwhile than simply producing art, however having spent some years now working both as a photographer and at the Monitoring Group, I can see that their are limitations and advantages to both. The balance between engaging with the art form, exploring the political and legal issues, and providing something back to the victim’s, whose lives become your working material is a difficult balancing act. All too often, artists simply prioritise their art, leaving many people annoyed. I heard that Kefi Chadwick’s new play about undercover policing had taken a very different approach, giving the women who were the victims of the undercover policing operations a say in how the play developed. Here we talk to her about her approach.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write the play, ‘Any Means Necessary’?
Well, I grew up in North in a political household and we read, and talked and discussed issues all the time. I also worked a lot for different charities working for victims of domestic violence and rape, and so I have a track record in working on those issues. I was myself a victim of domestic violence and was a case study for Refuge, and have written articles about myself in the Telegraph and other places.
The idea of the play came to me sometime in 2012, after I read an article in the Guardian about Mark Kennedy. It appealed to me intellectually and emotionally. I was married to somebody for seven years who had led a whole secret life which I knew nothing about, so I knew what it felt like to find out that everything you think and know about yourself and your partner is wrong, and your identity just disappears in an instant. The first question is not about them, but about yourself, who are you because you have been shaped by them and everything about yourself become unclear. Obviously, I can relate to it, but what the women went through was a thousands times worse because it was state sponsored. So I set about trying to talk to the women, and obviously this was difficult because the women wanted to be anonymous. I met Rob Evans (from the Guardian) and the lawyers, and then I met Merrick, one of the activists, at a protest. Eventually one of the barristers agreed to pass a letter onto the women. So, I wrote to them about myself, my idea and how I waned to work with them, some of them met me and we started working on the play. Around the same time, I was contacted by the Nottingham Playhouse, and they agreed to commission the play.
Do you think drama is a good way to explore issues around abuse and undercover policing, and how have you worked with the women affected by the police operations?
Definitively, I use drama both to explore ideas in my head, but I’m also aware that a good drama can be more powerful than journalism in helping to change the narrative, and there are many examples of drama helping to change perceptions, and helping people think through issues. I knew I didn’t want to write any play without the women, and I knew that I that if I met them, and they said no, then I wouldn’t write the play. From my own experience, it took years for me to be able to tell my story, and I knew I was going to ask them to share their most intimate story of hurt and pain, and they had to be ready to do this.
When we did eventually meet, they spent some time checking me out, and eventually they agreed to work with me and we spent 18 months talking, getting to know each other, thinking about what had happened and really trying to get underneath their stories. I had a agreement with the Playhouse that we would not use any lines in the play that the women were not happy with, this was important. The women have been amazing, I gave them the drafts to read, and things they were not happy with, were taken out and some thing were put in and some things were chopped and changed around. They also came to came up and met the actors and that was invaluable. It’s been a real gift to make the play with them.
The medium of drama has meant that I could tell their story without revealing their personal heartbreak. I could change names, change the timelines, introduce fictional characters to enhance the story, and I have written a play, which I hope is entertaining, but does tell the story of the women affected accurately, without revealing any of their details. I was also clear that I didn’t want to write a play about passive victims, of women who were abused, but who take the power back, who have solidarity with each other and went and challenged the machinery which caused all the abuses for years. You have to remember that these eight women came together and together they fought and supported each other, and the unity they have is a lesson which should make us all stronger.
What issues did you want the audience to think about?
I didn’t want to write a long wordy didactic drama, it was important to me that the play didn’t just preach to the converted, it had to appeal to everyone, and I wanted everyone to think that what had happened was so dreadful they that they must do something. Those police officers didn’t just set out to have sex, they set out to make these women fall in love with them, it was a calculated layer of manipulation and I hope we have demonstrated that.
Drama needs to address this romantic image of the James Bond Drama spy character. The idea of the British spy is very romanticised and this version has been upheld in films and novels for decades, and this is clearly wrong. If you read John le Carre, HE warns us against the moral corruption which secrecy creates, and that s why I wanted to write the play from the women’s perspective. The women’s story shows the others side of this romantic notion of spying, and drama has a role to play in helping to redress this balance, and help us think about the damage it causes. We see endless police dramas which glamorise illegal practices, things like policeman who don’t play by the rules and do their own thing, who beat people up, but these people are not hero’s, drama has created these heroes and we need to tell stories from the other side. There is so little drama which addresses the other side of the tale, and we need these stories to be told.
I was also aware that activists are not represented well on the screen, most seem too earnest, dirty, over worthy, and boring, yet activists are all different, but everyone I met was intelligent, fun, and certainly not boring to be around, and yes they are political but they are also many other things. I wanted the drama to capture this fun, for the policeman there was a lot of joy to be had, after all Mark Kennedy when he came to Nottingham went to loads of partiers, he de-jayed, he went to Glastonbury, and he was part of the activists’ community. Activists are interested in other people and communities and there is a sense of togetherness, which we don’t see in other groups of people.
It was also important to show that it wasn’t just environmental activists who were affected, but load of different people, some who had just happened to sign a petition at some time. What happened in the social justice campaigns was dreadful, most were just families who had done nothing, except seek to find out how their children had died. If all these people have been affected by undercover policing, then we need a debate about what we mean by domestic extremists. If you start thinking about what went on, and the scale of it, its hard to believe it could happen in this society, yet where are the convictions there haven’t been any. What happened to the women was political policing and whereas for wiretaps there is so much regulation, yet the police officers were allowed to have relationships and and cause a huge amount of damage with no regulations at all.
What do you think the women have got from the play?
It was important to me that from the outset that had a say in how the play develops, what they have been through is dreadful, and their lives have already been hijacked so I wanted them involved. I showed them drafts and they told where I had made mistakes, and they put me rights and its been important to work in this way.
I think they have got a lot out of it from telling their story and seeing their play develop. You have to remember that nobody believed them for years and years, and there is something validating in not just seeing the play being performed, but knowing that people are paying to go to the performance. I hope the process has been handled well, and its been part of the healing process, and hopefully I have developed the work with trust sensitivity and respect, and that its been a positive experience for them. I knew that others will want to hijack their stories, and therefore it was important to get their version of the stories out their first.
One of the things I’ve learnt is that the long struggle for the women to get to the truth has bought them together, and the Pitchford Inquiry is starting to bring a huge range of different people together, and this is important. When I went to see Stafford (from TMG) speak, the first thing he said was ‘I can’t tell you much because the police won’t release any information’, and I hope Pitchford will address this. There is still power from people coming together.
ANY MEANS NECESSARY BY KEFI CHADWICK IS AT THE NOTITNGHAM PLAYHOUSE FROM
Friday 5 February – Saturday 20 February 2016
Main House – Tickets: £10.50 – £28.50
You can visit the Nottingham Playhouse website here
There are half price tickets on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th February : Quote HALF PRICE OFFER
And there is a – PAY WHAT YOU CAN PERFORMANCE on
Wednesday 10 February 2016 at 7.45pm
Thursday 11 February at 6pm
Post-Show Discussion with director Giles Croft and members of the cast
Thursday 11 February
Saturday 13 February at 6:30pm
Wednesday 17 February at 6:30pm