Review: Future Me

Just like you and me?

Future Me

Where: Only Connect Theatre, 32 Cubitt Street, London WC1X 0LR
When: 7.30pm Monday-Saturday, matinees 16 and 25 April 3pm, Sunday 26 April 5pm, no performances 15 & 20 April. Runs from 31 March–26 April 2009
How long: Two hours 20 minutes, including 20 minute interval
How much: £15 (£10 concessions)
Tickets from: Pleasance Theatre or 020 7609 1800    

Dirty paedos, huh? They’re all sicko monsters and should be killed for the sake of the children.

That, at least, is supposed to be what all Right Thinking People know to be true. But is it?

Future Me explores whether paedophiles are in fact just like you and me, just with different desires.

Peter often works late. A promising young barrister, he’s about to move in with his girlfriend. Then one day his computer sends out an an email to everyone he knows, with an attachment that no one can bear to look at.

From the strange alliances of a prison segregation unit, to the trials of life on the outside, Future Me tells an epic story of ordinary monsters.

Rupert Hill and Robyn Isaac

Is it any good?
On the whole, yes, it’s very good. It takes a hard look at some really unpleasant concepts and issues and tries to understand them. It has some excellent acting, in particular from Toms Golding (brother Mike) and Newman (inmate Harry). And it never strays into the lurid or sensationalist.

As a play, though, it needs to be looked at on two levels: as a story and as an intellectual debate. As a story, it was very enjoyable, if that’s the right word. The characters were well drawn, the plot was realistic and you ended up sympathising in one way or another with just about everyone, even while you may have hated them for what they’d done. There were many character details that just rang true to me, whether it was in girlfriend Jenny’s (Robyn Isaac, the one flaw in the acting ensemble) life in journalism or Peter (Ruper Hill)’s enjoyment of copy-editing as a career post-prison. And the effects not just on the children involved but on Jenny of Peter’s crimes were gripping.

I’d nitpick in a few areas: the opening scene, with girlfriend Jenny telling stories about a swimming pool and a deer, was fringe theatre at its most dreadful – I was more worried that I’d have to sit through two hours of pretension than any potentially unpleasant subject matter; the direction veered towards the over-theatrical at times, with too many characters talking to the audience/walls instead of each other; and the idea of intellectual paedophiles having intellectual arguments with each other over intellectual lunches in prison strikes me as something of a conceit (although who knows?).

There were also enough points that overlapped with my own levels of knowledge and experience that drew me out of the action when things didn’t ring true: a young journalist using a tape recorder instead of something digital? How 1997. A virus that mysteriously sends out one picture picked at random from the user’s hard drive – and it just happens to be of kiddie porn? How unlikely of the writer of the virus that isn’t actually a virus. A copy-editor who files work by disk? I can’t remember the last office I was in that would accept work by floppy, instead of paper proofs or email, although I’m willing to accept there might be. Someone training to be a counsellor but who isn’t in counselling herself (despite that being a mandatory requirement on virtually all courses)? How’s that work then?

But these were minor niggles that didn’t affect the enjoyment of the story itself. And I did feel a thrill when an old edition of Butcher’s Copy-Editing came out of a plastic bag: Martin, if you’re reading this, can I have my copy back, please?

As a debate, though, maybe it’s just me but I came away thinking “And?”. The play isn’t willing to come to any real conclusions, only illustrates and explores. It shows that paedophiles are, in most ways, perfectly normal, even potentially sympathetic people; that it’s possible to make intellectual arguments about the arbitrary nature of the age of consent and the effect of sex on children; that society doesn’t exactly like paedophiles and gives them a hard time, if, say, they happen to have raped 12 year old girls; and that there’s no cure for paedophilia, only therapy to train paedophiles not to act on their impulses. Indeed, despite trying to shed light on the ‘monsters’, it only does this by having them explain themselves: there’s not really any attempt to demonstrate how close the other ‘normal’ characters might be in temperament to them, which leaves them retaining a certain degree of separateness.

What it also doesn’t do is say what needs to be done, if anything. Despite showing that paedophiles, whether they know their desires are bad or not, can’t change, only decide not to act on their impulses, the play’s only conclusion seems to be, “this is what it’s like – now you decide.” Should we treat paedophiles better, but keep a better eye on them? Should we imprison them for as long as possible? Chemically castrate them? Physically castrate them? What’s your opinion on Megan’s Law? Oh, you don’t want to say? Well, thanks then, but I knew all that already and intellectually I’m no further along now than I was before.

Again, maybe that is just me. I’ve known a couple of paedophiles in my time – ‘Harry’ reminded me a lot of one of them – so know they can appear to be quite nice people at first, even when you find out what thoughts they’re harbouring. I’ve heard plenty of these arguments before in other contexts. For others, these may be new and important insights and arguments. But something other than a bit of hand-wringing and something more like a stance would have given the play a harder edge and something more of a purpose.

As I said, enjoyable’s probably not the word to describe the play. But it is a very good piece of work, with some fine performances and some interesting arguments.

Verdict: A well written, well acted play on a hard subject that doesn’t quite hit its target but comes very close.

Rating: 4/5

The theatre
Only Connect is a converted Baptist Church about five minutes’ walk away from King’s Cross/St Pancras. It’s quite small on the inside and the stage is basically an area of floor marked out with duct tape with a semi-circle of chairs facing it, from about three or four feet outwards. We were sitting on the extreme left of the stage and had few problems viewing the action.

The theatre probably seats 50-100 people. Seats are comfortable enough so it’s easy to withstand both acts.

The box office is a woman with a cash box; the bar is another woman with a fridge and some plastic cups. Prices: £3 for a beer; £2.50 for a small wine (red or white); £5 for a large glass. White wine was nice. You can also buy crisps, but I wouldn’t recommend it. No need to book drinks for the interval.

Toilets: well maintained, but also well hidden, and there’s only one cubicle per gender. Fortunately, since the theatre can seat so few people, there aren’t really any queues during the interval or afterwards.

The outside of the Only Connect Theatre Inside Only Connect

The programme
50p. A trifold bit of A4 with cast and crew bios. You can also buy a copy of the text signed by the author for £4.

The programme for Future Me

Other reviews
Other fine reviews are available: Londonist and Jane Henry. Marie has also interviewed the author, Stephen Brown.

Peter (Rupert Hill)
Jenny (Robyn Isaac)
Mike (Tom Golding)
Harry (Tom Newman)
Ellen (Katherine Dow Blyton)
Tim (David Benson)