Finding out that a friend or relative has been arrested for downloading child porn is not a possibility anyone wants to contemplate. But there’s no way to be certain it won’t happen to you – or of knowing what it’s like for those who face it now, or yesterday, or tomorrow. In this devised show, Footprint Theatre give voice to innocent people who are publicly demonised and silenced: people left confused, overwrought and lonely, because of their proximity to a paedophile they never knew was in their midst.
Daniel has been locked up. Significantly, the title character never actually appears. Meanwhile, four friends from his group are left checking their own consciences, revisiting now-stained memories, looking for the clues they missed, and seeking to understand how the friend they knew could be this person – a person suddenly lost to them, as though dead.
There are no frills to lighten the naked truth: the four friends sit among us, subtly highlighting the fact that they are us, that we could be them. Their clothes mark them out only as students. The stage is bare save for a standing mic.
Alex starts, recounting his disbelief at finding out that his cousin had been arrested. Emma, Ellie and Harry all follow, delivering their own version of what’s happened and explaining their relationship with Daniel. Harry desperately tries to get Dan on the phone. Ellie declares she won’t be visiting Dan in prison – but gives a brave insight into her own proclivity for watching porn, querying the line between this and what Dan has done. Alex and Harry almost come to blows as Harry challenges Alex to just say it, just say what he did, stop skirting around the subject. Emma looks back and thinks there were clues – he never got off with anyone at parties – but Harry doesn’t let her get away with this.
Movingly, too, they each take to the mic to narrate a view on Dan’s mum: washing dishes, making tea, recognising the accused as her son as he came into the court room.
This is how people react to controversial news. Not only do the company portray the fact of it, they also succeed in commenting on these reactions, without being in any way preachy or over-clever. What’s also stunning is the completely natural way in which they perform. Every pause and stutter of natural speech is there. Harry plays with the sole of his shoe. Their timing is impeccable as focus switches from individual speech to conversation. It’s easy to believe they are just a group of friends, and we are listening in.
Footprint Theatre say they are “dedicated to creating work grounded in truth” and they “need audiences to sit up and listen”. They succeed here, and in spades. It’s completely arresting. It may challenge some people personally familiar with the topic, but plenty more will thank them. I am left gobsmacked at its truth and courage, and I’ll be recommending friends who aren’t here to see it at Camden People’s Theatre in October.