Synopsis

The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson revisits the Vancouver Provincial Courthouse in October of 1914 and re-examines the trial of Mewa Singh, who is put on the stand to answer for the assassination of prominent Canadian Immigration Inspector, William Charles Hopkinson – an act which he openly admits to committing.

 

Along with being the closing chapter of the infamous Komagata Maru story, the assassination of Inspector Hopkinson was the culmination of a simultaneous transnational struggle seeking independence for colonized British India, and a struggle for civil rights for South Asians living on the West Coast of North America.

 

An unexpected defense from Mewa Singh’s attorney takes the proceedings from an open-and-shut case, to a surreal debate of conscience. Drawing inspiration from historical events and documents, The Undocumented Trial blurs the lines of reality in narrative and aesthetic to create an analytical historical dialogue to explore political, sociocultural, and humanistic themes.

 

The Undocumented Trial has been mounted twice, once as a self-produced community theatre initiative, and once as a part of the programming for 2018’s Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts by the South Asian Arts society. Since its premiere, the show has sold out every performance.

The digital copyscript can be purchased through the Canadian Play Outlet.

Reviews

“An extraordinary play” – National Observer

 

“Spell-binding history...In a stroke of brilliance the play is staged in a preserved courtroom in the very courthouse where both the murder and Mewa Singh’s subsequent trial and sentencing took place...The resplendent trappings of Empire were on full display; the royal coat of arms, the elaborate high-mounted Rattenbury-designed judge’s bench, the oak panelling throughout, all the symbols of a faded power that once held the globe in its thrall.” – Vancouver Observer

 

Cast & Production

Playwright & Director
Paneet Singh

Set & Costume Design
Adelaide Wilder

Cast
 

Patrick Nagel, Harwant Brar (2016), Roopinderjit Sharma (2018), Bradley Bergeron, Sacha Romalo (2016), David C. Jones (2018), Sherry Duggal (2016), Arshdeep Purba (2018), Andrew Wade, Michael Strickland, Daniel Frost, Sidartha Murjani (2016), Andy Kalirai (2018), Tabatha Visutskie (2016), Eryka Alanna (2018)

 

Playwright's Note

In 2012 I was sitting outside of the Legislature in Victoria, BC. Naturally, the tour guides attract a great deal of attention with their sensational old-timey outfits. I noticed two groups of people outside of the building. One group was lined up, waiting for the next tour, and one group was lined up by the tour guides, waiting to get a picture with them in their outfits. The former group would get the experience itself, and the latter would get the facade of an experience. I can’t say for what reason, but this moment really resonated with me. In consequence of much of my work being historically based, it began echoing that moment outside the Legislature, thematically - getting the three dimensions of experience.

 

This is not a mock trial deciding if a historical figure is guilty or not guilty. This is about re-living the experience and sympathizing with four perspectives, both comparable and contrasting, of the same time period. It is about revisiting the spaces where history lives, and walking these halls where Hopkinson walked moments before his death. Revisiting the trial of Mewa Singh in the exact building it took place. Site-specific theatre naturally lent itself to being the most effective medium to share this story. The story needed to be told at the Vancouver Art Gallery, formerly the Vancouver Provincial Courthouse.

 

While sensory stimulation is the most powerful experience for a human, it is always perceived, analyzed, and reflected upon in the mind’s eye. The mind’s eye has no limitation. Again, this is echoed by the production. Site-specific theatre, no stage lighting, no riser seating, authentic courtroom circa 1910, transcript-based dialogue - that is the sensory stimulation. The truth in the experience. The surrealist plot, the non-linear storyline, the fictionalized and dramatized backstories - therein lies the mind’s eye. The higher truth in the limitless reflection.


 

The truth is in the experience, the higher truth is in the limitless reflection.

 

© 2020-2023 | Paneet Singh

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