Tickets: £5- £6
“I don’t know what you expect to experience, now that you’ve come to the theatre to see two children killing a third. So you want to upset yourself with an experience that is frightening? Disturbing? Moving? Educational? Do you think it is useful to watch the enactment of two children killing a third?” You’d be forgiven for finding it hard to say why you’d want to see Monsters.
I was initially fascinated with director Matthew Goldhill’s brave decision to stage the play, but would have been uneasy about saying exactly why. The play constantly calls into question our motivation as audience members for actively choosing to watch, involving and accusing us of being witnesses. This makes for very uncomfortable viewing.
Niklas Rådström’s play takes the murder of James Bulger and transforms interview tapes and court notes between the children and investigators concerned into a dialogue, forcing us to confront those aspects of society which are most alien, most appalling to us. It’s a play which allows the cast and audience to ‘talk’ about what happened in 1993 and the repercussions of an event which many found, and still find, deeply traumatising. Underlying the discourse which makes up such a fundamental part of the play lies an almost sickening sense of inevitability: we are gently reminded throughout of the horrors of the past “which will soon happen here”. The use of an echoing, haunting chorus similarly allows for an uncomfortable level of contact between the cast and the audience: I was directly addressed and at one point was asked to read a line. There was – and why should there be – no escape from the reality of the text.
Contrary to criticism about the play’s ‘sensationalising’ of the utmost in human barbarity, Rådström’s script takes on the form of a Greek tragedy, narrating rather than re-creating the event.
Fen Greatley, whose hunched, childlike guilt when reading the words of Jon Venables, is nonetheless prevented
from becoming a ‘character’ in the play: Goldhill’s decision to have him read from the script as “the thing that keeps you safe” further instils the divide between acting ‘the part’ and telling the story. Luke Gormley, Becca Kinder and Chloe Orrock, the remaining cast members, provide a very clear maturity and sensitivity in their performances, with the latter’s speech as Robert Thompson’s mother proving particularly poignant. The fluidity of their character changes reminds the audience of the blurred boundaries in this case – the difference between guilt and innocence. Not only does the play examine the nature of ‘evil’ but it addresses the tragic circumstances which can lead to such evil, of “what happens when no one cares”; in a way, the termingled stories of broken homes and subsequently broken lives override the most glaring tragedy of all.
What was most impressive about the play was the level of analysis and discussion evident from cast, producer and director. There was a sense that they had really attempted to understand the nature and purpose of Rådström’s script. Go and see this – whether you ‘like’ it or not is immaterial: you’ll
talk about it, and provoking discussion is, after all, what all good theatre should set out to do.