Deep Cut, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

It's a chilling title, Deep Cut. It's also deeply unsettling material. Deep Cut, the Army training barracks in Surrey, now gives its name to a powerful play on the violent deaths of four young recruits based there.

Taken from original source material and first-hand accounts, Philip Ralph's tightly woven piece of verbatim theatre focuses on the story of 18-year-old Private Cheryl James, the vivacious Welsh girl who was killed by gunshot while alone on guard duty.

Even more puzzling was the fact that, with undue haste and scant interest by Surrey Police, the cause was attributed to suicide.

Sherman Cymru's production, directed by Mick Gordon, takes us into Cheryl's home. There her father, his stoicism and distress sympathetically conveyed by Ciaran McIntyre, takes us back to the early life of the little adopted girl in whom he and his wife had found such joy.

The story may be hers but the writer is keen to present it as just one strand in this horrible jigsaw of mismanaged investigations, alleged cover ups, not-so-independent reviews, long-delayed inquiries held behind closed doors, manipulation of evidence and the ambivalent role of journalists in the tragic affair.

With contributions from Cheryl's sparky Welsh colleague (played by Rhian Blythe), and tough questions from her father and mother, along with a line-up of those involved – lawyer, politician, forensics investigator, military top brass – the docudrama unfolds with compelling dramatic realisation.

The production remains resolutely objective despite the highly charged and deeply emotional subject matter. Some of the humour makes you smile through gritted teeth, while some of the blatant incompetence of those who should have been accountable will leave you shaking your head.

The lack of trust among professionals, the unwillingness of those protected by institutions is not new, of course, but when it is presented in such a thorough and wholly uncontrived way as in Deep Cut, and acted with such commitment, it shocks.

It would be comforting to think that justice will prevail, but there's clearly never going to be a happy ending to this story. The parents of all those young people who have died, in less than transparent circumstances while under the protection of the armed services, will never cease to grieve. If Deep Cut does anything to help keep the spotlight focused on those questing for truth and those so neatly evading it in this murky matter, Ralph's timely play and this perceptive production will have achieved something.

To 24 August, not Mondays (0131-228 1404)

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