Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
Many of the entries in Ian Dixon Potter’s collection of digital plays called Tales from the Golden Age seek to reveal how racist and stupid Britain is, especially in the light of Brexit. His newest show, Confession, is no different and, although the story is well told and ably acted, it is also very unsubtle.
Golden Age regular Neil Summerville plays Detective Sergeant Dunderdale investigating a brutal murder in a sleepy English village. Two 15-year-old boys have been hacked to death, but for a over a year now, the police have got no further in finding the killer. However, Dunderdale finally has a lead when a few of the villagers come forward to say that on the day of the murders they saw a black man acting suspiciously.
It doesn’t take long for a resident of another town to proclaim that her neighbour, Yousef Massoud, fits the description that the police have circulated. Dunderdale is certain that Massoud is his man, and when he realises that there is not enough evidence to secure a conviction, he decides to get ‘imaginative.’
While the story has echoes of both real life and fictional police corruption, initially the play seems set in the past, in the 90s perhaps, as Summerville’s character borrows a good deal from David Jason’s Detective Inspector in ITV’s A Touch of Frost. The language, too, is definitely not political correct and Dunderdale’s racist beliefs are quickly joined by homophobic and Islamaphobic ones too. It comes as a surprise, with an allusion to Brexit, to discover that this play is set now. It’s not to say that there aren’t people out there who harbour these beliefs, but would they so flagrantly use language that seems plucked from the 1970s? And surely a policeman in today’s climate would choose his words more carefully?
Sometimes monologues use the audience as another character and the protagonist will tell their story to their unborn child, their social media followers, their future selves or a friend in another country. In Confession, it’s never clear whom Dunderdale is addressing, but it’s certainly not his own confession we hear. Confessions usually come with contrition.
The story and its set-up may be dated, but it moves quickly and the 37 minutes speed by. Scenes are short, and usually show Dunderdale preparing for work, eating breakfast, drinking tea or coming back home after a long day, drinking whisky. These shots give a glimpse into Dunderdale’s life as a single man, and his attic bedroom only underlines his loneliness.
But apart from these visual clues into Dunderdale’s private life, the Detective Sergeant is fairly uncomplicated. In short, he is a racist, and a homophobe, and the play suffers from a lack of nuance. Dunderdale is simply the villain here, and no explanations or solutions for his behaviour are offered. The play would improve if Dixon Potter gave more ambivalence to his character, and then let the audience decide whether Dunderdale has done the right thing.
In a few weeks time, many of Dixon Potter’s plays are being shown at the Hens and Chickens Theatre under the title of Testimony. His plays aren’t always about Brexit; some deal with the future like Transhuman while others like The Triumph of Evil are set in the past. And fortunately not all are as black and white as Confession.