Unscorched at the Finborough Theatre
Child abuse is a subject that requires the greatest sensitivity – only those with the most delicate understanding can tastefully translate it into a cultural form. Writer Luke Owen has chosen to tackle this disturbing subject for his debut play in a brave and somewhat audacious move.
Nidge and Tom (John Hodgkinson and Ronan Raftery) are digital analysts whose job is to investigate websites that may or may not contain content featuring the sexual abuse of children. They sit at their desks all day watching grotesque and harrowing crimes against innocence, slowly ground down by the horror of what they have to witness in the digital realm.
Much of the office is like any other. Nidge and Tom’s line manager Mark (George Turvey) is an upbeat bureaucrat who seems almost immune to dark Internet paedophilia; they have office board games and go on “fun days” to the local go-karting track. Tom, a new addition to the team, has started dating Emily (Eleanor Wyld), but as his soul darkens it seems that their relationship is already doomed.
Unscorched sadly bites off more than it can chew and, while its unsettling subject is obviously very pertinent given recent scandals, it feels wrong from its inception. Owen may yet become a fine playwright, but the play feels unoriginal despite its shocking and largely unexplored subject matter.
The most interesting things about Unscorched are the plate glass and concrete, the bureaucratic line manager and the inane conversations about South Park. The idea that incredibly ordinary people are in a drab office having to contend with a modern day equivalent of the Inferno is fascinating but somehow untapped.
Only Hodgkinson encapsulates the quotidian drudgery of English office life – the rest of the cast cannot quite escape their fashionable metropolitan provenances to truly make the audience believe their characters. Owen plays some peculiar tricks on the audience, such as making the courtship scenes between Tom and Emily more difficult to watch than the discourse upon the worst abuse websites. Audiences will find this perplexing and may fail to understand the message of the play: is this a commentary on the digital saturation of morality? Or perhaps a meditation upon the way modern media has desensitised us? One suspects Owen himself doesn’t even know.
Guy de Vito
Unscorched is at the Finborough Theatre until 23rd November 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.