Review: The outsiders

22 March 2016

by Kate Wyver

I try to imagine being told that someone I know is a paedophile. I try to imagine whether I’d be able to stop thinking about it, whether I wouldn’t want to talk about it, or whether I’d be the one carefully probing for gossip.

I try to imagine what it would be like if I knew them well, if I touched them, if we hugged, if we went to school together, if we shared food, if we had sleepovers, if we sat next to each other in French, if we brushed past each other in the corridor. I try to imagine the world collapsing because of the reveal of a hidden secret, a desire that no one can quite understand.

Daniel is presented as a verbatim play about a boy who is convicted of possessing indecent images of children. The focus is on the outsiders – the cousin, the best friend, the girl he used to walk home with, the gossiper. The closest we get to him is a numb description of his mother over a microphone, unemotional descriptions of her trying to clean away the consequences of the conviction.

Dramaturg Tilly Reith’s work with the cast and production team is obvious, with bits of research slotted into the structure of the text. The play is cleanly laid out, with transitions marking a change of thought or character, almost like a scrapbook of perspectives. It is not an overarching view of the issue of child pornography. It steers clear from how it actually affects the children involved, and while it attempts to understand why Daniel has done this without a background of abuse or trauma, it doesn’t go into his head to find the answers. Instead, Daniel is about the devastation caused by one damaging obsession.

Audio recordings of Dan’s best mate Harry are played between scenes, to remind you of who this boy was to everyone else before his secret was revealed. He was a friend, a son, that guy in school you didn’t pay much attention to. Jack Solloway as Harry dominates the stage with his eloquent and witty speeches, almost making you sympathise with Daniel. They humanise him in a climate where he is otherwise demonised. Not for a second do you feel sorry for, nor forgive, Daniel, but you see his offence as just one part of him. It does not define him, as everyone on the outside seems to think.

Daniel’s silence pours with questions. It makes you wonder what he’s doing inside that house, how he’s spending his time. It makes you wonder if he talks to his mum. It makes you wonder why he did it. But more than that, it makes you want to give his mum a hug and let her cry on your shoulder. It makes you see how many lives he’s ruined.

While the structure is clean and clear, it feels like there is some space for it all to fall apart, for a little bit of the chaos within to spill through. For me, the very end takes away from what the piece had so far created, moving it from a view of the damage he’s done to others, to a slightly more confused focal point that doesn’t have such an acute definition. But the play is created with such a good heart, pieced together so delicately with a desire to unpack and understand. It is a compelling and brave exploration of a taboo subject.

Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca