PRIVATE THOUGHTS, which completes its run at the Hackney Empire tomorrow (April 25), has had received mixed reviews and a special mention in an editorial on “vile”, tasteless art in Hackney, which appeared in another local publication.
The plot concerns the torment of a morally upstanding man, Eric, who has placed himself in a private psychiatric clinic because he believes he is a threat to others. He has, he tells his therapist Dr Chase, been having sexual fantasies about children.
This disturbing theme is dealt with with the sensitivity and seriousness it deserves. Dr Chase’s patient says he has wanted to abuse children but has never acted on his impulses. He is reluctant to reveal to her the secrets of his own childhood, which she believes will help shed light on his perversions.
Therapist and patient engage in a psychological tug of war that is a little too in your face. The play’s finale is also extremely frustrating: the curtain comes down just as Eric appears to be opening up, leaving the audience none the wiser about the root cause of his problems.
Nonetheless, the play should be commended for dealing with the subject of paedophilia in a way that makes a refreshing change from the hysterical articles in red top tabloids. Branding paedophiles as evil “paedo monsters” is an irresponsible way of addressing and preventing such psychological problems and the crimes they cause.
MONSTERS is the title of another so-called controversial play, scheduled to run from 6-30 May at the Arcola. In articles in the Observer and in another Hackney publication, the group Mothers Against Murder and Aggression, condemned the play and accused its creators of exploiting a terrible event to “make a name for themselves”.
The play is about the horrific killing of two-year-old James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, which took place in 1993 and shocked the nation.
Christopher Haydon, who is directing the play for what will be its UK premiere, says critics should reserve judgement until after they have seen Monsters.
“None of the people who have written articles about the play have seen it,” he says. “They haven’t seen how we’re dealing with the issues so there are a lot of assumptions involved.
“When I read the play for the first time I thought it was an extremely powerful piece. It questions the nature of evil, what it means to commit a crime and how we as a society deal with traumatic events like [the murder of James Bulger], which have happened throughout history.”
Jerry Killick, one of the actors in Monsters and a Hackney resident, said: “The material is pretty disturbing. What we are trying to do is to present that material to the audience without going too much down the road of acting the people… it’s not really like the work a method actor would do, where you try to get inside the characters. To the extent that there’s a story, it is as much about the people on stage trying to come to terms with the material.
He added: “A lot of the reporting of terrible events tends to be sensationalist. People tend to think that in a theatre piece it will also be presented like that, but theatre of all the mediums tends to be the most sensitive. Monsters asks broad questions about social responsibility.”