Theatre review: Execution of Justice

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

Execution of Justice tells the story of the assassination of San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone and openly gay District Supervisor, Harvey Milk on 27 November 1978.

Centred around Dan White, who was convicted of killing Milk and Moscone and first shown on Broadway in 1986, this is an intense verbatim retelling and dramatisation of White’s trial, scenes of which are cleverly juxtaposed with poignant historical moments using live action, video and voice recordings.

Joss Bennathan’s new production of the play uses the space delightfully and simplistically, and ensemble in the strongest sense of the word is achieved here.

Southwark Playhouse could have been built for this play – built under a railway arch – the sounds of the overhead trains seemed to be cleverly incorporated into George Dennis’ sound design, as when “dull thuds” were described during the account of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk’s assassinations, similar sounds were audible overhead, seeming to emulate a level of piercing calm, and adding to the momentum of the play.

Alongside the sound, the lighting was subtle enough to coerce the audience into actually being transported to the courtroom alongside Dan White, and simple yet effective states allowed the juxtaposition of scenes inside and out of the court to be seamlessly and snappily achieved.

The entire cast were faultless as an ensemble, and each member of the cast gave extremely strong performances, only enhanced by one another. The varying momentum of the piece is carried brilliantly by the cast bouncing off each other, and support each other exceptionally well through a piece fraught with emotion and turmoil.

Fighting a battle which seems already won by the opposition, and appearing devastatingly hopeless, Ben Mars’ performance as prosecutor Thomas Norman, was particularly noteworthy as he ploughed through one cross examination after another with his counterpart, Christopher Lane, the defence lawyer, also showing great stamina as the pair sustained their characters throughout long, but engaging courtroom scenes.

Both the costume and set work well together, designed by James Turner, with the minimalist set plastered with newspaper images from the Moscone-Milk assassination being complemented by spot-on costumes which evoked the period well.

Execution of Justice is a play that everyone should see, but which sadly will pass a lot of people by. Moving through the full spectrum of human emotion in 100 minutes, the passion, anger, and raw emotion from the audience on the other side of the traverse could be felt with the lights down, and despite being heartbreakingly tragic, the play ultimately delivers a message of hope.

This immensely moving production plays until Saturday 4 February at the Southwark Playhouse, London and tickets start at £10.