Pictured top: Sam Hallam
Pictured middle: Sam’s mum Wendy with director David Mercatali
Pictured bottom: Robin Crouch as Sam
Published: 8 June, 2012
by TOM FOOT
SAM Hallam stood sipping a pint outside the King’s Head Theatre in Islington on Tuesday night.
Inside, his life story – a raw tale of a young man robbed of his freedom by a stomach-clenching miscarriage of justice – was being played out in front of his closest friends, family and his mother, Wendy Cohen.
Sam, 24, told the Tribune he could not quite bring himself to go inside but had wanted to show his face.
The former Central Foundation School student from Hoxton spent almost eight years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the murder of 21-year-old Essayas Kassahun, an Ethiopian refugee who lived on St Luke’s estate in Old Street.
There was a special quality to the atmosphere on Tuesday as friends, relatives, his lawyers and campaign team filled the auditorium for the joyfully updated version of Someone to Blame.
They cheered the magic words of the prosecutor as he said: “We no longer seek to contest the appeal” and laughed as actors re-created the moment Sam was doused in champagne on the steps of the Court of Appeal.
But after the show, Sam’s mum said: “It was weird. It was better than the last time I saw it, but still so hard to watch.
“The thing is with this is that you live it, you dream it. The only good that has come out of it is all the wonderful people we’ve met. Everyone who has been involved in the campaign has been five-star. We are like a family.”
She said Sam’s homecoming had not been as she had expected but her son had a “real calming way about him”, adding: “The first week you could see he wasn’t smiling properly. You can see there was anxiety for me.”
Ms Cohen is off to York to spend the weekend with campaign chief Paul May, who she described as “like a God”. Mr May fought for the Birmingham Six in the 1990s and there were members of that campaign at Tuesday’s show.
While loud cheers greeted the dramatic scene when the Crown chucked in the towel, there were tears for the moment when Sam, played by Robin Crouch, was found guilty, rocking back in the dock as his mother scrambled out of the court looking for her own mother. Sam’s gran was also in the theatre on Tuesday.
It was a gruelling experience for some of the audience. A member of the family of William Power, one of the Birmingham Six, fainted shortly before the interval.
The play was written by Tess Berry-Hart and directed by David Mercatali, who read about Sam’s case on the campaign website and “wanted to do something”.
Mr Mercatali recalled the powerful moment Sam was released, saying: “There was a prison officer sat next to him. When it came through the prison officer started celebrating. He started pumping his fist at Sam. Everyone was affected by it. Sam bolted upright in shock.”
The playscript uses language from the original witness statements and court transcripts of the murder trial and appeal hearings. It is told in two hours and includes exceptional performances from Debra Baker, Clare Cameron, Alex Gatehouse, Keith Hill, Vincent Jerome and Bradley Taylor.
Mr Crouch – who came to the court to see the man he plays walk free – said: “It’s been a fantastic experience – but I don’t think I could do it any longer. It’s almost got too much for me to play.” The show was extended for a four-day run that ended on Tuesday.
After Tuesday’s performance, Mr Hallam had gone. Off to play his new Playstation, Wendy thought.