It takes a deft dramatic hand to navigate the line between the intellectual and the emotional when it comes to a subject as sensitive and unpleasant as that of paedophilia. Fortunately Stephen Brown, in his new play Future Me, just about manages this precarious balancing act.
Brown, unusually, chooses to concentrate on the perpetrators of these crimes, rather than the victims. His play introduces us to Peter, a young barrister with a glowing career ahead of him and a devoted girlfriend who he is about to move in with. Dramatic conventions suggest that this too-perfect existence is about to come crumbling down on top of him. And, oh boy, does it.
His fall comes by way of a single email. An email he mistakenly sends out to his entire address book. And this email which is seen by his work colleagues, his girlfriend, and his entire family has an attachment which contains pornographic imagery. Child pornography so extreme in fact, that it causes his younger brother, to whom he’d gone to get his hard-drive wiped, to get the police involved.
Material that could so easily have felt seedy and sensationalist, is elevated into something altogether more thoughtful by Brown’s intelligent writing and some superb acting. Covering a period of five years, the play takes us through the rehabilitation process for men who have committed crimes like Peter’s, the counselling sessions and the eventual readjustment to life back on the outside. In doing so it allows us to question just what forgiveness entails, and whether some crimes are too horrific to ever forgive.
David Sturzaker is excellent as the unnervingly calm and articulate Peter, and he is given strong support from Kelly Williams as his initially tentatively supportive girlfriend, Jenny, and from Philip Fox as Harry, Peter’s middle-aged cellmate at the segregation unit in which men like himself are kept. Dave Benson gives an icy turn as the inmate who argues that all adult sexual contact with children is not intrinsically harmful. Again it’s to the credit of the writing that this extreme viewpoint can be seen as another layer in a well constructed piece of theatre and not just controversial for the sake of it.
The play is flawed though, most notably the scene where Jenny interviews Peter, ostensibly for a feature she’s writing, and Brown takes the opportunity to remind both her and the audience of just exactly what Peter did, that his crimes were not restricted to looking at pornography, that he allowed his fantasises to bleed into reality and did something appalling. This scene, that hits home the contrast between Peter’s articulate, sensitive demeanour and the truth of what’s he capable of doing, what he has done in fact, should leave you as bruised and betrayed as Jenny feels, but it doesn’t quite manage it.
The play’s title comes from a part of the counselling process and refers to the inmate’s rehabilitated “future me” as oppose to the harmful “past me.” Guy Retallack’s direction gives the play time it needs to unfold and develop, though in the end, as mentioned, it’s a little too distanced and clinical in certain scenes; however, considering the subject matter in hand, perhaps that’s a necessary compromise.