Review: In safe hands

22 March 2016

by Steph Young

Footprint Theatre’s Daniel is a thought-provoking, if brief, verbatim and devised piece which asks its audience to scrutinise their beliefs and emotional responses to the troubling stories with which we are presented in daily life. I was happy to comply. Even 24 hours after seeing Daniel, I am still unsure as to where I stand on the sentence of the 18-year-old convicted for possessing indecent images of children.

Telling the story from the perspective of Daniel’s relatives and close acquaintances was an innovative decision. It ensured that the audience could not easily reach a judgement. We were presented with a couple of options: firstly, adopt a pseudo-intellectual approach, rationalising the man’s behaviour (although, at 18, I still feel compelled to call him "boy") through stats and facts about his upbringing; or secondly, succumb to the anger and disgust bubbling in your gut. Neither option really suffices. I was initially sceptical about the introduction of Daniel’s character into the piece, even in the form of a voiceover; however, this was executed with caution and did not undermine the ambiguity that the company had carefully established.

The use of low-lighting, spotlights on the characters’ faces, and in-the-round staging made the audience feel as though they were witnessing, and somehow part of, an interrogation. I was frustrated that Daniel himself was absent from most of the questioning while the visible characters were made culpable merely by being connected to him.

Minimalistic set and simple stage directions helped to foreground the impressive writing of Matilda Reith and the company. Hearing striking fragments of story was enough; I did not need to see Daniel’s mother scrubbing the eggs, unflinchingly, from her front door for it to be poignant. This is testament to the quality of the script and to the actors’ ability to convey the delicate issues with skill and sensitivity. Ensemble moments were slick and individual performances natural. Harry (Jack Solloway) was perhaps the most convincing, purely because his character was the most developed. Even when they were not reciting news headlines or quotes from research papers, the other characters seemed to serve as channel for information rather than embody real people.

As a controversial springboard for discussion, Daniel is certainly successful; however, as a play, it feels unfinished. With some textual tweaks, re-development of character and the inclusion of more material, the production should thrive in this company’s capable hands.

Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca