Making a Murderer: The Musical ... Really?
Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic
A harmonious dramatisation or jarring tragedy? Debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival early August, Making a Murderer; The Musical remains a divisive discussion among supporters and legal advocates of the two protagonists at the heart of the Netflix documentary - the original Making a Murderer.
Created by and starring BAFTA award-winning writer Phil Mealey, the musical promises to be "darkly comic, deeply engaging and emotive ... a captivating comedy-drama." I struggle with those tag lines. I can't imagine the late Dolores Avery found the wrongful conviction of her son and grandson comedic. There are well documented psychosocial consequences for the families of the wrongfully convicted and having spent 35 years travelling to correctional facilities the length and breadth of Wisconsin, Dolores, who sadly died last year was beaten back by a justice system not fit for purpose. That is not darkly comic, it is a Greek tragedy of unfathomable fucking proportions.
Making a Murderer (Netflix) was not entertainment. It didn't feel good. It was a painful, uncomfortable gut punch that catapulted you from your living room chair into the interrogation room of a barely 16-year-old kid. A kid with profound social and intellectual challenges and it compelled you to care. You didn't have to be a lawyer in those moments to be affronted, you need only be human. The dynamic that played out between two seasoned investigators and a compliant, suggestible kid elicited a visceral response in all that watched. It unleashed a collective outrage across the globe and mainstream media and social platforms heaved with anger - and shock. And the story introduced a cast of craven characters who coerced, manipulated, lied, and ultimately extracted a false confession from a child who couldn't even describe the crime he was being accused of, let alone commit. There was no forensic or corroborative evidence to connect Brendan Dassey to the crime scene, yet in Wisconsin that was enough to result in a de facto life sentence. There's no barbershop quartet needed to be outraged about that,
It begs the question is a musical an appropriate format in which to raise awareness? All awareness is good awareness, right? Could it potentially introduce a new audience to Brendan's injustice? But therein lies the conundrum. Can a musical adequately represent the travesty, pain and danger that is Brendan's everyday life, or does it reduce it to fodder, and a catchy chorus consumed before and after the interval?
Can you imagine the West Memphis 3 as a musical? *Shakes head violently*
Phil Mealey is a writer of note, think The Royle Family and Early Doors. And the arts are full of adaptations. However, is an injustice that the protagonists continue to endure appropriate subject matter? There is no joy in wrongful convictions, they are littered with victims and the remnants of cruelty and like many, the story of Brendan Dassey is imploding with nuances and sorrow. But the production has captured media attention, the reviews are favourable, so isn't that good for the case? Isn't that good for the cast? After all piggy backing of its namesake does lend it an instant platform and immediate recognition. Cynical? Perhaps.
I have not seen Making a Murderer: The Musical. However, Brendan's story is not the Hurricane, it's no retrospective, he is living it right now. I hope for Brendan, Steven, and their families that the most harrowing moments of their lives are portrayed not with perfect pitch but with an unsettling anger that lingers long for those who see the show. And let it not diminish the impact of the documentary where the authentic truth-telling comes from Brendan and Steven themselves and not a narrator off to the side of the stage.
To quote the sage Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, "[They] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
Making a Murderer: The Musical 3 - 29 August, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe.