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A CurtainUp London Review
Tanika Gupta has dramatised the events using material from statements made at the time and from the official enquiry into the death of Zahid Mubarek (Ray Panthaki). The conclusions are ugly and uncomfortable illustrating the prison service as a deeply racist institution. Gupta has been careful not to demonise Zahid's murderer, Robert Stewart (Kevin Trainor) but to portray him as a very troubled young man with mental health problems who was also let down by the prison service.
The play is narrated by Imtiaz Amin (Ray Panthaki), Khalid Mubarek's uncle and ten years his senior. Imtiaz Amin was the leader of the family's campaign to have the circumstances surrounding Zahid Mubarek's death made the subject of an official enquiry. Anti-racism campaigner and founding member of the National Civil Rights Movement Suresh Grover is played by Shiv Grewal. It was Suresh Grover who guided the family through the maze of British politics and legal redress. David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary refused to meet them, refused to reply to their letters. Even this week he was invited to attend a performance of Gladiator Games but he was not there.
The play has been revised since it premiered in October/November 2005 in Sheffield and Stratford. It takes the form of a drama documentary as all the material is taken from evidence presented. The scenes shift from Feltham to the court of enquiry, a simple metal set with balcony providing both venues. Charlotte Westenra cut her directorial teeth on similar productions with political enquiry themes at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Although there are only five actors, they are adept at portraying ten different characters so that at no point was I confused as to who was speaking.
The family point out how Zahid Mubarek's case has attracted less attention and less public sympathy than that of Stephen Lawrence. They feel this is because Zahid was in prison convicted of a minor offence but they say that prisoners have rights too. The prison service has a duty of care to its inmates and Zahid did not get this care. Gladiator Games is a disturbing and pertinent evening in the theatre with superlative performances. It illustrates the power of drama in retelling injustice and bringing an understanding of the issues to a wider audience.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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