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.

Plot
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.

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




  • I appreciated the Butcher’s copyediting too, as I still have one on my shelves(-:
    I thought this was a deeply thought provoking piece of work and did feel it challenged my attitudes quite a lot. I was particularly struck that I pretty much liked Peter up till the point when he told Jenny what he’d done, AND I have a 12 year old daughter. I thought that was the clever thing about the play, as it played with your preconceptions. I’m lucky enough not to have met any paedophiles(though I suspect I may have had a narrow miss when I was 12), and I know of a family with an horrific abuse story, and I understand your frustration that this didn’t provide any answers, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe there aren’t any. I don’t like the media hysteria about them, I wouldn’t want one living next door. I’d prefer them to be visible in the community then hidden from sight, though. And at least this offers a rational starting point for debate rather then the hysteria we normally see on this issue. I agree, not an enjoyable experience, but a compelling one. I thought it was brilliant.

  • “I understand your frustration that this didn’t provide any answers, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe there aren’t any.”
    To me, that’s a bit too wishy washy liberal. ‘Ooh look how clever we are. Look what nuances we’ve discovered. What? You want us to do something. Ah, well, that’s complicated and we can’t do complicated all of a sudden.’ It’s basically a get-out clause for people who are only prepared to do the research but don’t want to have to put themselves out on a limb and actually have an opinion. Unless, of course, they think the status quo is optimal.
    “I don’t like the media hysteria about them, I wouldn’t want one living next door.”
    I lived with one. He was a nice bloke. Bit of a jack the lad. Had pictures of kids from clothing catalogues hidden in his chest of drawers though. Never did anything, not even when ‘weird girl’ (the girl on the estate whose parents were obviously sexually abusing her) tried to touch him in adult ways – he ran a mile when that happened. He did want to elope with the teen who lived next door though who kept coming in and lying on his bed. Didn’t do that either because he knew it was wrong too.
    Of course, then there was the other one we saw down the pub. He’d come in every week and we’d ask how he was doing. Then he started talking about how his sister was being weird and how she was seeing this therapist who was turning her against the rest of the family. Then he was saying she’d taken an exclusion order out against them. Then he was in prison for having stood by the door, keeping guard against his mum, while his dad had abused his sister.
    Then there was this time I was on jury service. Woman who when she was a girl thought she was in love with her step-uncle. Guy took advantage, even though she was (on average, since it happened over a number of years) 13. At the time, she thought she had a relationship with him and was in love. Ten years later, she realised what had happened had been wrong. We ended up sending him down for 25 counts of sexual abuse.
    What do you do about any of that? What’s the correct response that will deal with all that spectrum of behaviour and desire? That’s an argument I’d like to have seen, rather than ultimately “paedophiles can be monstrous but they can be sympathetic, just like us” – which wasn’t exactly news to me. But, as I said, YMMV.

  • Marie

    What does YMMV stand for?
    I don’t know that I agree that all creative work about political themes needs to offer answers if it is to be valid. For example, I have been commissioned to write a piece about girls’ lives in Africa. I have no idea what the answers are to the problems I saw. Does that mean I should refuse to write about it?
    As regards Future Me, I would say that one of the answers suggested by the play is: ‘stop seeing these people as so different from the rest of us. Stop seeing them as inhuman monsters’. That doesn’t solve the problems of paedophilia, but it’s a start in terms of thinking about solutions. You may have met a number of paedophiles and already reached the conclusion that they are human too, but I don’t think that’s a universal experience. Future Me offers a very different take on paedophilia than the average tabloid. Perhaps you might argue that it is preaching to the choir but most (middle class, liberal) people I have spoken to have found the play’s sympathetic approach to the paedophile characters to be uncomfortable and challenging.
    The play also raises questions about the prison system and in-prison and post-prison therapy which you may be frustrated that it doesn’t answer, but the play’s been shown in prisons and to barristers, probation officers and counseling professionals, many of whom have also said that it challenged their views and made them rethink their approaches. So it’s taking its message to the right people.
    Anyway, to return to my earlier point, who says that a piece of art is there to provide answers? The best work on paedophilia that I know is Lolita, and there are fuck all answers in there.

  • MediumRob

    “What does YMMV stand for?”
    Your mileage may vary.
    “I don’t know that I agree that all creative work about political themes needs to offer answers if it is to be valid. For example, I have been commissioned to write a piece about girls’ lives in Africa. I have no idea what the answers are to the problems I saw. Does that mean I should refuse to write about it?”
    Do you plan on telling people new things or things they already know? If the former, no; if the latter, yes – unless the money’s good. Equally, you could interview a few people who might have answers and use their suggestions if you agree with them.
    “Anyway, to return to my earlier point, who says that a piece of art is there to provide answers?”
    I did – in the context of “but I knew all that already and intellectually I’m no further along now than I was before.” Had I been told something new, then I wouldn’t necessarily have asked for anything else (eg answers).
    My point was that I came out having learned nothing new – and I did say on several occasions “maybe that’s me”, since I’m aware I might have abnormal viewpoint on this (although I went with my sister and she was far more scathing about it so it’s not just me) and that to other people its message might well be sufficiently new to suffice.
    So personally (as stated above), I wanted something that would have told me something I didn’t know, rather than a rehash of things that I would have thought truly liberal people would already have known: paedophiles ain’t monsters, but they can do monstrous things.
    Imagine a polemic about gay men, designed to raise debate, whose single message was “Hey, gay men* ain’t bad. They’re kind of just like you and me, but maybe a bit different in some ways.” Would you have thought, “Great argument,” just because you knew there were plenty of Daily Mail readers for whom this was somehow new? Or would you have thought “And” and maybe wanted something more from the play? For me, the latter, I suspect. But YMMV.
    * Obviously, I’m not equating gay men and paedophiles, just in case on this glorious Internet, someone comes to the wrong conclusion.

  • Marie

    You’re not equating gay men and paedophiles, but I would argue that more people are liberal on the subject of gay men than on the subject of paedophiles.
    Re the play, it is not a piece of journalism and I feel as if we’re arguing on journalistic terms. You said for yourself that you enjoyed the story and your high marks reflect that, so I suppose it depends how much of an intellectual argument people are looking for. You obviously want quite a high degree of that; others may be content with a powerfully moving experience. YMMV indeed.

  • “I would argue that more people are liberal on the subject of gay men than on the subject of paedophiles.”
    Almost certainly, although I’d need harder figures on liberals rather than just people in general. I’d be interested in figures on percentage of self-avowed liberals who would disagree with the statements, “Paedophiles are like me in some regards”, “Paedophiles can be middle class and appear quite nice” and “Paedophiles need not be total monsters”. And, as Julian Clary points out, lots of people call themselves liberals when it comes to homosexuality but suddenly become quite conservative when asked to think about gay sexual practices, so the figures on liberals who aren’t quite as liberal as we’d think on the subject of gay men would be good too. People can be surprising in many ways.
    Although actually, I’m not that fussed, so in your own time.
    “Re the play, it is not a piece of journalism and I feel as if we’re arguing on journalistic terms.”
    I hear what you’re saying, but my point was that this is a polemical play that’s trying to make a case for something.
    “You said for yourself that you enjoyed the story and your high marks reflect that, so I suppose it depends how much of an intellectual argument people are looking for. You obviously want quite a high degree of that; others may be content with a powerfully moving experience. YMMV indeed.”
    Well, I’d get mathematical and point out there’s no real way you can tell from a rating of 4/5 (Did I give it 5/5 for content and 3/5 for argument and average? Did I give it 5/5 for content and 1/5 for argument and weight it 80/20 say and round down a bit? Or did I – more likely – just take a point off?) but that would be dull.
    Plays can be moving, entertaining or whatever without making any particular argument. But if they’re going to make an argument, I’d just like it to be something that doesn’t make me go, “And?” afterwards.

  • Ian

    Hello MR
    An interesting review – but what an awful thought: that plays, or any works of art, should “reach conclusions”. You seem to be regretting the fact that the play doesn’t end with a white paper on penal reform.
    “this is a polemical play that’s trying to make a case for something…”
    Having seen the play, I profoundly disagree. I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn’t a polemic – that it didn’t try to ‘make a case’, but simply put competing voices into play and let them talk it out.
    Cheers
    Ian

  • MediumRob

    “You seem to be regretting the fact that the play doesn’t end with a white paper on penal reform.”
    I wasn’t. I refer you to my previous comment.
    “Having seen the play, I profoundly disagree. I enjoyed it precisely because it wasn’t a polemic – that it didn’t try to ‘make a case’, but simply put competing voices into play and let them talk it out.”
    I do kind of see where you’re coming from, and to a certain extent, you have a point. But I think most people think it is at least trying to make the case that paedophiles can be quite normal, and Marie’s interview with the author shows some of the points he was trying to argue and make.