It is rare to get to see a play like this one – in content and in acting – and I would recommend it to anyone who thinks theatre is stale, is pretentious, is “arty”.
The play is about the killing of James Bulger, the three-year old boy who was murdered by two ten-year old boys in Liverpool in 1993. Wait. Don’t scrunch up your face and dismiss this as some avant-garde theatre stunt, please give me the chance to explain, as did the actors for me tonight.
As you enter the theatre you’re confronted with a camera, a TV screen to your left and a computer monitor to your right, and a stand alone video camera at the side which plays back in real-time the events that happen on stage. It is all too much like the CCTV footage that was plastered across the media in 1993, and it is startlingly effective. The atmosphere is unsettling; the lights are hot and white and there is no music. In fact everything is very real yet completely surreal, and the show begins without any sign of starting.
The dialogue is constructed out of the interrogation transcripts from the real police interviews conducted with the two boys under custody. It could be called verbatim theatre or simply the recounting of real events, but the understated tone of the acting creates a powerful effect. It is as if the truth is laid bare for us to witness and we can make what we want of it.
The actors make no attempt to dramatise the real words spoken out of the mouths of the boys from Liverpool, in fact they deliberately go against acting when speaking aloud from the transcript – yet not an essence of the drama is lost. True performance is rendered by Chloe Orrock who plays the mother of Robert Thompson an accused boy; she has all the open mannerisms of someone who is telling you her life story across the kitchen table, and I was certainly left numb with how tragic reality really can be.
The direction by Matthew Goldhill strikes the right balance between provocation and interrogation. Jon Venables’ ten-year-old monosyllabic answers proffer as much light on the human condition as does the exasperated member of public, who upon trying to comprehend the whole situation just keeps repeating ‘I don’t know’. What makes this play hard-hitting is not its content but its honesty. Well directed and well written, this piece of theatre should not be avoided out of fear of the subject-matter.