Just a voice

24 March 2016

by Kate Wyver

“How real is it?”

This is the question that’s been whispered round the in-the-round theatre as soon as the lights come up on Daniel. I sat down with the cast and crew to unpeel the layers of truth beneath this provocative piece of new writing about the impact of child pornography.

Director Elin Schofield quickly clears up the confusion concerning truth: “All the characters are fictionalised.” Dramaturg Matilda Reith explains, “The actual story is real, about a boy who is in prison for that crime. Someone in the company, it’s someone they went to school with.” While taking the inspiration from one specific case, the company have found many stories with remarkable similarities in their research for the show. “As a company we felt we couldn’t do it properly if this was a real case. We couldn’t have access to speak to the people involved so it would be presenting something potentially false.” Approaching the play like this gave them more of an artistic licence, “so we felt it was better to fictionalise it with a real case as the starting point”, Reith says.

The main worry that the team have, they say, is “who are we to make this show?” Their determination to tackle the difficult subject matter is admirable, and they are self-deprecating, criticising their own work and looking for ways to develop it. But, Schofield notes, “no one could have any sort of art if they had to have experience of it to make it”. Reith says that with all the revelations of the celebrity paedophiles that have come out in the past few years, “there’s been so much more public discussion about this issue, so it really felt it was the first show we wanted to make as a theatre company. We went with our gut on most decisions.”

Although there is a personal connection to the boy Daniel is based on, it is distant and they don’t know all the details. Fiction has been used to fill gaps, with elements of verbatim online comments injecting the sad reality of the way the media deals with the issue. Reith says they found the online comments and articles “completely ridiculous and offensive. But we thought it was important to put them out there.” Using the real online material as verbatim was a way for them to say, she explains, “that we can only imagine so much but actually here is something that is widely available to everyone and is potentially quite damaging”. It’s a way, says Jack Solloway, an actor in the play, to show “how the news treats an issue with no sensitivity or spectrum”.

Daniel is presented in a more sympathetic way than might be expected. They explain the difficulty of trying to create a balanced argument. Actor Immie Davies says, “I think you have to know that Daniel is a human because the idea that these people who do these horrible things are monsters is so dangerous because that’s so simplistic, and it makes them almost untouchable, satanic creatures. But they’re people and there are problems to be dealt with.” Davies only joined the cast very recently, and says, “I saw the show when they did it the first time. I think it’s more sympathetic this time round, probably significantly so.”

What is clear from more and more discussion is that this issue is not black and white. Daniel is 18 when he is convicted. There is, actor Jack Solloway notes, “something twisted a little bit further in the fact that he’s so young”. But if he had been a few months younger when he’d been found out, Schofield points out, “the sentence would have been nothing like it was”. There are many questions surrounding age, both of the perpetrator and the victims. “You don’t know how old the children in the pictures were so it could be there’s only two years difference between them when he’s looking at them, when he’s 18,” Schofield says. Reith adds, “There are thousands and thousands of images, which is indicative of a habit that has gone on for many years, so when did that start?” Without knowing all the details it is hard to make definitive judgements.

The choice to bring Daniel’s voice in at the end of the play is one the company discussed for a long time. Schofield explains: “The idea is that it’s not about Daniel, it’s about the people around him. But I think it felt sort of unfinished without it, and we wanted to bring it in to get away from that monster that is portrayed in the media and to show that it’s actually just a voice and they’re talking about normal things. Also if you took it out of context, it could just be anyone talking about anything, looking at anything online, like YouTube videos.” Reith continues: “To have him there is a moment to see if the audience’s own opinions have adjusted. The show is about perspective so it’s inviting the audience to consider their own perspective at the end.”

They don’t pretend to have a definitive view on the issue. “It is perfectly reasonable to think that Harry might be wrong,” Solloway says, “and that it is better to just keep those people away from everyone else.” Actor Isaac Whiting argues that however people have reacted to what’s portrayed in the show, the agreement seems to be that it is “something quite honest”. Davies adds, “I don’t think you have to have answers. No one has all the answers.”