The real-life story of Sam Hallam – the Hoxton man currently serving a life sentence for a murder he protests he did not commit – is being adapted to the stage by playwright Tess Berry-Hart.
Taken from the court transcripts, witness statements and police interviews in Sam’s case, Someone to Blame is the latest project in the campaign for Sam’s freedom.
Imprisoned in 2005, Sam Hallam was convicted of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, a 21 year-old trainee chef.
The Sam Hallam Campaign is led by Paul May, one of those responsible for freeing the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four, and counts actor Ray Winstone, and miscarriage of justice victims Gerry Conlon and Patrick Maguire amongst its supporters.
The campaigners argue that the inconsistency of the original trial’s witness statements, the absence of CCTV footage or forensic evidence, and new information all prove that Sam was not at the scene of the crime.
Challenging Oscar Wilde’s claim that “life imitates art more than art imitates life”, the story of Sam Hallam is being staged as a piece of verbatim theatre, a form of documentary whereby a play is constructed from the precise words spoken by the people it is portraying.
The established author and playwright Tess Berry-Hart explains how she was first captivated by this subject: “Real life stories have a certain force of their own, and especially one as significant as Sam’s, because when you think about it, what happened to Sam could happen to anybody. Once I started unpicking the police investigation that surrounded the case, I thought this is an incredible story that needs to be told.”
Having trained at the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme in 2000, Berry-Hart has returned to theatre after spending several years writing novels: “I’ve always been an admirer of verbatim theatre, but it has difficulties of its own. It’s hard to edit, especially in a case as vast as Sam’s, and it can be hard to bring across recognisable characters and stories.”
Despite the difficulties involved in editing the documents surrounding Sam’s case, Tess believes that Someone to Blame is the right way to raise awareness of the campaign for Sam’s innocence: “Theatre is an amazing medium to make you feel. There’s something about its immediacy, about the fact that it’s happening right in front of you that is different from any other art form.
“I think as humans we have a psychological response to seeing another in distress, and this should be the case with Sam’s story.”
Brought to life in a presentation for supporters of the Sam Hallam campaign and industry professionals, the play has already had one week’s development with actors and is now looking to secure a professional production: “We’re currently trying to find a home for the play – for a run that will mean that Sam’s story can be taken beyond the boundaries of Hackney and exposed to lots of different people. What lies at the heart of this play is a universal issue – justice.”
Berry-Hart urges anyone who is interested in the campaign or this production to get involved. “It seems that miscarriages of justice aren’t fashionable now in the same way that they were in the 80s or 90s.
“Everyone seems to think that because we have the full Justice Review Commission that everything’s as it should be and that’s simply not the case. If we don’t keep our eyes fixed on miscarriages of justice and stand up against them, who’s going to stand up for us when it’s our turn?”