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First Night: Tragedy turned into potent drama

The Colour of Justice, Tricycle Theatre, London
IT'S A RARE night at the theatre that begins with the director announcing that the price of the ticket includes a concessionary rate for a basic St John's Ambulance course in First Aid on Saturday or that ends with a minute's intense, communal silence in remembrance of an unavenged victim of murder.

Scrupulously directed by Nicolas Kent from edited transcripts by Richard Norton-Taylor, The Colour of Justice is an enormously potent staged re-enactment of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

The piece is in the noble tradition of the Tricycle Theatre's similar stagings of the "Arms to Iraq" hearing and the Nuremberg Trials. But where the cockeyed Alice Through the Looking Glass logic of the government ministers in the former provoked outraged laughter, the parade of grim- faced, edgy police witnesses here, with their repeated refrain of "I can't remember" and their convenient, seemingly institutional tendency to mislay things ("I still have the clipboard but I no longer have the notes") produces snorts of wan, sickened incredulity.

This is theatre as an image of society confronting itself.

Of course, it is important to guard against any premature, more-liberal- than-thou self congratulation just because one has participated in an act of collective indignation. Indeed, the witness who moved me the most and gave me most food for thought was the Irish Catholic, Conor Taafe (beautifully by Tim Woodward). An evidently simple man, he went to help Stephen Lawrence as he lay bleeding at the bus stop. But he was also ready to admit in court that his initial impulse was to suspect it was a trick that would lead to violence because the young men were black.

He can confess to the reflex racism that even the most liberal whites can feel at certain moments. There lies an important lesson for us all.