Review: Great things to come

23 March 2016

by Tom Bulpett

I had no idea what I was in for before I saw Daniel, the debut piece of new writing from Footprint Theatre. After speaking to several people before seeing the show it was clear that it had divided opinion: some hated it, others were unsure, while many loved it. Regardless of views, there was one reoccurring trend among those I spoke to: they could not stop talking about it. And after experiencing it I can see why.

The play focuses on the fallout of a young man, the unseen title role, being convicted for possession of 50,000 indecent images of children, specifically examining the reactions of his friends and former class mates at school. Through a series of monologues and short two-person scenes we see the differing emotional responses to Daniel’s arrest, from the sympathetic to the sickened. These are intercut with verbatim extracts from internet articles and brief narrative sections describing the day-to-day life of Daniel’s mother, post arrest.

Matilda Reith’s writing manages to respectfully navigate this controversial topic while still posing uncomfortable and challenging questions. The cocktail of emotions rushing through the psyche of each character are beautifully layered within their direct addresses to audience and tension fuelled dialogues. The role of Harry in particular is crafted with a clear understanding of the conflict felt by those with a close connection to perpetrators like Daniel. Unfortunately, at times (especially during the verbatim) the text delves into caricature in an attempt to expose the problematic violent responses some have to child sex offenders; these moments jar with an otherwise intelligently written piece.

Reith’s impressive text is matched with strong performances from the entire cast. Scenes in which characters passionately debate are tense, quick and full of a frantic energy that only comes from great chemistry between performers. Each monologue is delivered with subtlety and spoken in a conversational, withdrawn style, making it feel as though we the audience are sat alone with each character listening to their brutally honest thoughts.

The minimalist lighting used throughout the performance contributes to this sense of closeness, with small spotlights picking actor’s faces out of the crowd as they begin to speak, drawing our attention completely on to their nuanced expressions during each address.

Despite all of this, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the performance was missing a step, another element that would round off this otherwise impressive piece. Important questions are left without exploration, vital characters (such as the mother) are glossed over or ignored, giving the play an unfinished quality. There is easily another 20 minutes of material to come out of this emotive subject that I think this company is capable of drawing out, they just need more time. In its current state it is a good production, but given another month or so of exploration it could be incredible.

Daniel is certainly a production worth watching. It deals with a subject matter that demands impassioned discussion, even if that comes from a place of anger, dislike or acceptance, maybe a mix of all of them. The fact that it has divided people and got them talking suggests to me that it has achieved this necessary objective.

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato