The Strange Death of John Doe at Hampstead Theatre
As you enter the smaller auditorium downstairs at Hampstead Theatre, you are faced with the alienating experience of being cleaned. A masked person grants you a perfunctory squirt of hand sanitiser. The set, too, is clean, clinical, spotless, ready for a post-mortem. The Strange Death of John Doe sets out to juxtapose this metallic distance with a search for humanity and warmth behind anonymity and bureaucracy.
The narrative follows the terrible death of a stowaway fallen from a plane, charting the investigation into his demise and its effects on those involved. An uncommon act that bespeaks a tremendous desperation, but clouds a sense of the victim’s identity.
The pathologist’s examination room is rendered meticulously in an inventive and evocative use of staging. Director Edward Hal has done well to sew the sutures of sterility through the entire production and to hold onto these overtones. Still, elements of the show do not share the same attention to detail that the set has clearly received.
Thematically, this is a very strong play, and one that sets out to achieve a great deal. It travels time, continents, accents, and yet there is a sense in which it is perhaps over-extended, and that a clearer, punchier narrative would lend strength to a piece that has a lot to say.
Amidst these changing environments, Rhashan Stone provides a clear thread of focus and refinement as John Kavura. There is a hard exterior to this embittered copper, peeling away to reveal a troubled complexity and tenderness that Stone works with confidently.
This is another recent foray by Hampstead’s downstairs stage into prejudice, race and the loss of humanity in keeping memories on coroners’ papers. But the scope that The Strange Death of John Doe attempts to encompass and the production’s ambition fray the bold themes and dilute an important set of ideas.
Photo: Edward Hall
The Strange Death of John Doe is at Hampstead Theatre from 25th May until 30th June 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.