I have written about Theatre 503 before. This studio space above the Latchmere pub in Battersea is one of my favorite fringe venues – and not just because it’s a ten minute bus journey from my front door.
At the moment they’re showing a play called Future Me by Stephen Brown. To steal a term from the press blurb, the play is about ‘ordinary monsters,’ men who do unspeakable things. The main character, Peter, is a young barrister with a promising career ahead of him and a loving girlfriend who he's about to move in with. So, clearly, the laws of drama dictate that his life is about to fall spectacularly apart. This happens by way of an email – he accidentally forwards an attachment to his entire address book that includes a pornographic photograph. Child pornography to be precise.
The play then goes on a journey that covers a number of years. Peter goes to prison where he is kept in a separate unit (his crimes, it seems, went to more than just pornography, he touched as well as looked), he attends group therapy sessions, is released and has to adjust to life on the outside once more. The play also concentrates on the impact Peter's crime has on the people around him. Though initially horrified, his girlfriend Jenny deals with things in a very level-headed fashion, unable to fully relate the man she loved with the man in prison for child molestation.
Stephen Brown’s play is commendable on many levels; it has a detached but not overly clinical tone, and for the most part manages to maintain the difficult balance between the intellectual and emotional. It allows us to question whether some crimes are too horrific to forgive, and whether forgiveness, acceptance, is even desirable. It’s very well written, often very incisive and entertaining, though not without flaws, some of them quite fundamental. The crucial 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, should leave you shocked. By hitting home the contrast between Peter’s articulate, sensitive demeanour and the truth of what's he capable of doing, has done in fact – well, it should leave you as bruised and betrayed as Jenny feels, but it doesn’t quite manage it. You never fully get under Peter’s skin as a character.
Two and half hours is a long time to spend in a (very) stuffy studio above a pub on a summer evening, but this is an intelligent, thought-provoking and often unsettling piece of theatre and more than worth it. Good performances too, especially from David Sturzaker as the unnervingly calm and articulate Peter, though he appears to have stolen Simon Amstell’s voice, which was a tad disconcerting.