The art of cover-ups in Deep Cut

Fatal proof: forensic expert Frank Swann (Bob Blythe) shows why he believes the Deepcut suicides were murders
 By Nicholas de Jongh
12 Mar 2009

This disturbing semi-documentary play by Philip Ralph serves as another jolting reminder of how well government ministers practise the dark arts of the cover-up. This traditional mode of shielding us from awareness of the terrible things politicians and civil servants do in our name has, as Ralph reminds us, become a modern political success-story. How often, for example, do you nowadays hear of how blind eyes were turned upon some injustice from knowledge of which politicians sought to protect us for their own good?

In questing style Ralph’s implacable gaze is turned not upon one conceivable cover-up but several. The Government, the Ministry of Defence, a leading human rights QC, two police forces and the House of Commons Defence Committee are all involved. Deep Cut delves into a conundrum: between 1995 and 2002 four young soldiers died from gun-shot wounds at Deepcut Barracks. They were all found to have committed suicide. “Found?” as an outraged Lady Bracknell said. Ralph does not adopt her dogmatic tone.

Instead, with verbatim transcripts from those involved, he raises nagging doubts and questions about the veracity of those suicide verdicts.

The play, in Mick Gordon’s lucid production, focuses on the chirpy Private Cheryl James, whose bemused parents, Des and Doreen, are brought to vivid, painful life by Ciaran McIntyre and Rhian Morgan as they revive memories of their adored daughter. The inappropriate scene, given Deep Cut’s roving brief, is the family sitting room.

Here, Robert Blythe’s independent forensic expert, Frank Swann, convincingly shows why he concluded these “suicides” could only have been murders.

An investigative journalist, Brian Cathcart, finds that Deep Cut exposed trainees to bullying, sex, and flouting of rules in relation to fire-arms. He and Swann challenge the findings of Nicholas Blake, the QC who led the exonerating inquiry into the deaths at Deepcut. Four subsequent police inquiries were never made public. This laying out of the facts in the forum of theatre concentrates and shocks the mind. Deep Cut would have been more powerful and challenging, though, if Ralph had developed his case by dealing with all four soldier trainees and had spent less theatre time on affectionate reminiscences of Cheryl. Even so, his play raises disquieting questions about another political cover-up.
Until 4 April (020 7328 1000).