Review: The Quality Of Mercy

A thought provoking solo piece focusing on Harold Shipman's crimes

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Edwin Flay as Harold Shipman
Photo by Anna Koerier
Published 08 Aug 2023

Dr Harold Shipman was one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Using his position as a GP, he murdered hundreds of his elderly and terminally ill patients before being jailed for life in 2000. Writer-actor Edwin Flay's grandmother Renee Lacey was one of Shipman's victims. Flay's solo piece depicts Shipman on the last night of his life, recording his version of the story in his cell. 

There are moments where Flay paints Shipman sympathetically, particularly as a teenager caring for his mum dying of terminal cancer. This, to some extent, provides a logic to Shipman's crimes – he doesn't want anyone to suffer like his mum did. These intentions are contrasted by his angry outbursts, where he comes across as a power-hungry man who believed he could master life and death. As a whole, the piece paints a complex picture of a man who has been reduced to a monster by the press and wider society, though there are underlying ethical questions as to whether or not Shipman – or anyone else who's committed horrible crimes – should be depicted in a humane way at all. 

Flay's performance is detailed and committed, a resemblance to Shipman that is particularly disconcerting. He convincingly captures the intelligence of the doctor, but also Shipman's arrogance and desire for power and control. Though it's not quite clear why Flay created this show and some people could find it offensive or distasteful, it is considered and well-made.