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Child Z, Drayton Arms Theatre – Review

Sarah Hehir
Directed by Suzette Coon

Pros: Bold choice of subject matter. The story has a good focus and is clear in its delivery. The dialogue is strong and, even within a rehearsed reading, the performances are excellent.

Cons: Despite good character development, this play is missing a message and is too sensitive in its approach, leaving little impact on the audience. Furthermore, I felt the narrative verses between the scenes did little to enhance the story.

Our Verdict: If this play is to be workshopped further and eventually staged, it would be worth pushing the envelope to find more to say about this subject. With a bit more development, Child Z could be a powerful piece of theatre.

Courtesy of www.littlepiecesofgold.co.uk

To try and capture the magnitude and complexity of the Rochdale child grooming scandal on stage is a considerable task. Though this play is only loosely based on the actual events – 47 under-age girls were the victims of child sex exploitation by a group of British Pakistani men – playwright Sarah Hehir is to be commended for finding and sticking to a single focus for the story.  Child Z ran as part of the Little Pieces of Gold rehearsed reading series, which is designed to nuture new writing.

Zoe (Cassandra Bond) is fifteen. She is the daughter of an alcoholic, and lives without a home, any parental guidance or schooling. She makes a connection with Fraaz (Ali Zaidi), a young local Muslim boy who works in a kebab shop and shares Zoe’s passion for art. However when Fraaz abandons the friendship, Zoe is at her most vulnerable. She becomes dependent upon Fraaz’s brother Shafiq (Oliver Gatz), who, after offering her nice clothes, drinks and a place to sleep, exploits her as an underage prostitute.

The play is written as a reenactment of the events leading up to, and the eventual entrapment of Zoe at the hands of Shafiq. Scene by scene the audience witnesses Zoe’s problems escalating and the toll they take on the young character. The dialogue between the characters is very real, not over-written. And the delivery, even with scripts in hand, was very honest, particularly the opening scene where Zoe meets with her mother (Tracey Ann Wood), who appears to be getting her life together, promising Zoe a better future. There was a nice mother-daughter chemistry at this point, which made subsequent scenes where the mother had started drinking all the more more painful.

Between the scenes are verses performed by Tash (Hannah Wood), Zoe’s friend. Talking directly to the audience, Tash traces Zoe’s actions and her story. Given that this was a rehearsed reading, I wasn’t sure at first whether it was the stage directions she was reading, or if this third person omniscient narrator was part of the performance. However the way it was written, with Zoe interrupting at deliberate points, I got the sense it was part of the play. Though it is something different, whether this technique enhanced the drama  is questionable.

The Rochdale child grooming scandal and the public debate it ignited provide rich subject matter for playwrights and other social and cultural commentators. Child Z handles the story with an appropriate amount of sensitivity. However, perhaps it is too sensitive in its approach. There is no clear message or opinion explored, and consequently it fails to make a strong impact on the audience. The program says it is a play about society’s most vulnerable becoming prey to exploitation. And that’s kind of where it stops. If this play were to be workshopped further before being staged, it may be worth Hehir pushing the envelope a bit and seeing what else is inside this subject.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Child Z has finished its run at the Drayton Arms Theatre.
Visit www.littlepiecesofgold.co.uk for information on future productions.

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