JUST days after Theresa May’s U-turn on social care policy knocked the Tory election campaign off course, a small group of performing arts graduates were in the final stages of rehearsal for The Enchanted, the new production arriving at The Bunker this week.
The play, based on Rene Denfeld’s award-winning novel about a death row prison in America, doesn’t seem like the most obvious fodder for UK political commentary, but director Connie Treves says audiences might be surprised by what they draw from it.
“At the most basic level, UK audiences are still interested in the concept of the death penalty, and it’s important to recognise that it does still exist in some countries,” she says.
But more broadly I think the play is so much about what leads people to commit the crimes that they do.”
“There’s a huge correlation between the abuses these men suffered as children and their actions later in life, which delivers an important lesson on the importance of the social care system and what can happen when it breaks down.”
The story follows two men awaiting execution in isolation. An investigator is working to save them; tirelessly drawing out their backgrounds and exposing the abuses that drove them to commit their crimes.
Rene Denfield published the book in 2014 based on her own experiences as a death penalty investigator, which raised the stakes somewhat for Connie and her mother Joanna in adapting the story for the stage.
“When I found out we got the rights, my first thought was that it was such difficult content to work with,” she says.
“Rene was completely immersed in this world of capital punishment whereas I’m not even from America and have no experience with their penal system, so it was difficult.”
“We’ve ended up using all her language as we didn’t want to lose the lyricism of the novel, but it was a case of recognising the links between all these different narratives in the book and establishing a through line for the play.”
The Enchanted debuted at Edinburgh Fringe last year, where it received a resounding tick of approval from the author herself as well as audiences.
“It was absolutely fantastic to get the response we did in Edinburgh, particularly when we were so concerned with doing the story justice for Rene.
“It’s not exactly a light watch, it takes audiences a lot to really sit and engage with the content but to have people come up afterwards and actually thank us for it felt pretty amazing.”
“I hope all our audiences can see beyond the dark subject matter and find a hopeful energy in our capacity to intervene in these patterns of abuse.”