Most people have told a lie to get laid, but not many of us have done so backed by the state. Since a 2011 Guardian investigation uncovered the stories of a group of British women allegedly manipulated into intimate relationships with undercover cops, we've started to learn just how far the Metropolitan police's now-defunct Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) was willing to go for information on "groups involved in politically motivated crime" – largely anti-racists, environmentalists and animal rights activists.
In 2008 the Met had binned the covert SDS, created in 1968 and responsible for spying on murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence's family in the 1990s and burrowing into protest groups using close relationships with female activists. Then, in November 2015, a Met assistant commissioner formally apologised for the sexual relationships – though prosecutors in 2014 had decided not to charge four officers known to have dated women under false pretences.
Now a public inquiry is accounting for what exactly made the SDS shady enough to shut down entirely. Eight of the women who found themselves in relationships with men who'd lied to them from the moment they met have come forward, mostly anonymously or under pseudonyms, to share their stories. Enter Kefi Chadwick, a writer who's adapted the women's experiences into Any Means Necessary, a play that opened at Nottingham Playhouse on Friday. We spoke to her about fictionalising undercover cop Mark Kennedy's impact on the women he dated in Nottingham and telling a story still shrouded in half-truths and cover-ups.
VICE: This is one of those stories that feels destined for adaptation. How did you get the women to speak to you about something so personal?
Kefi Chadwick: I contacted them through their barrister, and three of the eight women met with me, before two of them ended up being involved in the play over a good couple of years. It was very important to me that they, at the very least, were happy for me to do it and ideally were prepared to be involved. It took a long time to reach them because obviously they're anonymous – they don't want anyone to know who they are. From doing interviews and spending time with them, we've become good friends.
How did you begin to tell the story, when it feels as though there's so much we don't know about it? The Met still won't release the names of any other officers involved, for their safety, for example.
I didn't want to do it without the women's cooperation. One of the reasons why the women were interesting in talking to me was that I wanted to do a fictional version of the events that took specifically place in Nottingham. I wanted to tell a 30-year story, so in the end I chose to have a framing device: a hearing in 2011, where you have the women's stories being told and the Met trying to destroy them. Then you have a central story, set in Nottingham from 2004 to 2008. The job of a playwright is to imagine, so I had so much real material that building on that to create this vivid world for the play was much easier. I had all this reality to base it on.
How did it feel, to use material this raw? Didn't you feel as though you were prying, or getting too close to the women?
I mean, to use people's lives ... what I've tried to do is shift and fictionalise everything. It's interesting, because the women were worried about being exposed by the writing, but once they'd read the first draft they went, 'Ah, yes. I see now that this isn't identically my story, but it is my emotional truth.' I think that's what people engage with, and what makes the play powerful.
There were so many strands to this scandal. The latent sexism, for starters, of straight women activists being targeted and exploited by their intimate relationships with undercover policemen.
Absolutely. There was a lot I wanted to get in, and I feel as though it's all pretty much there. But it's about not having to give everything the same amount of airtime. There are the references to the Lawrence family, and the other women; the different campaigns, and the involvement protest movements in Scotland.
What about tone? This could easily have turned into something really over-wrought, bashing the audience over the head with one perspective. How did you try to balance that out?
It was really important to me to make a good piece of theatre. I think a lot of political drama is very valid but can be very worthy. If you're already on the side of its point of view, people won't go and see a show. I didn't want to write something that was really didactic or that hit you over the head. I wanted to write a piece with characters you connected with and went on a journey with – all the things that a really strong drama does, but with this emotional, political context at its core. You have to think: do I want to preach to the converted, or do I want people to come and see it, who might not be very politically engaged but will go away thinking, 'this is wrong, and I want to do something about it'? That's what I wanted to make.
But what sort of place for this pseudo-activism is there in theatre?
I've written the play so it can be adapted, should there be developments later on in the Pitchford inquiry. Of course, when I first started researching this three years ago or so, it wasn't so much known then. But more information just keeps coming and coming, and I think that's just going to continue, as more officers are exposed, as more relationships are discovered and as there's more corruption with police desperately trying to hide what they did. I think that's going to be really interesting.
Any Means Necessary runs at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 20 February.
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