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Unscorched, Finborough Theatre – Review

Luke Owen

Directed by Justin Audibert
Pros: Good acting, a clever set and a memorable look and feel.
Cons: Lacked a compelling enough storyline.
Our Verdict: A slick and eye-catching production about a sensitive subject, but too predictable in its emotional devices and story arc.
Credit: Richard Davenport
I watched a film recently where the opening shot is of a pig being led out into a farmyard. It’s squealing as the farmer drags it by the collar. The farmer then produces a bolt gun, holds it to the pig’s head, and fires. The pig goes limp. It stops squealing. Then, in the film, everything’s rewound and, in slow motion, you watch it all again, as if the director was somehow revelling in the moment. It’s fair to say it’s a pretty shocking opening to a film. But after even the second time of watching it, I felt a lot less bothered by it all. Imagine being the farmer who has to do it all the time – to him it’ll probably be just another everyday chore.
Unscorched raises this similar examination of human behaviour, but using an altogether more disturbing example: child pornography. It centres on Tom, a new recruit at a digital analysis company, who spends his day investigating suspicious web links while on the lookout for videos of child abuse. His co-worker, Nidge, has seen a host of colleagues come and go and probably – it’s fair to say – doesn’t have high hopes for Tom’s staying power. It is, as you’d expect, a harrowingly depressing job.
At the same time, Tom is on the dating scene and trying to lead a normal life. He meets a girl, Emily, but the spectre of his job hangs over everything they do together. It’s as if he’s willingly destroying his own life in order to help others.
It’s a bold premise, and one that should be applauded for confronting such an important but taboo issue. Stylistically, the set looked fantastic: neat, striking, and full of secret doors and cupboards that would open up to act as desks, fridges, cabinets etc. The greyness added to the sheer mundanity of the environment the two main characters were working in, while the lighting and sound provided professional flair.
Unfortunately, for me, similar flair was lacking in the storyline. I suppose my problem was this: if you were told about someone who’d just applied for a job that involved looking at child pornography every day, you’d probably be able to predict their future mental state, and the incredible conflict they’d face. They’d struggle with relationships, they’d find things upsetting by association, they’d coppice their emotions.
The play didn’t really extend any of these fairly obvious permutations. The two main characters didn’t seem to evolve much, or if they did, they didn’t evolve in any particularly surprising direction. The most engaging scenes were during the two speed-dating events that Tom attended, where he first met Emily. Here, the dialogue was effortless, funny and had a genuine charm about it – it was as if the shackles had been released, since these were the only scenes where the dreaded subject matter didn’t loom large.
Indeed, it felt like the subject matter was the main focus, rather than it being the background, the context – as if its enormity was enough to hold our attention. As a result I feel the writer missed a trick by not delving deeper into the complexities of the human mind and really playing with the emotions of the audience. For example, when a character starts to gets desensitised, it’s a fleeting moment, when really I felt it should have been at the apex of the crescendo. It’s the whole half-a-maggot-in-an-apple scenario: what’s worse than watching child porn? Getting used to watching it.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the play attempted this, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. It needed to shock more, use emotional cues that were more unusual and surprising, and give the audience that inescapable yet riveting feeling of being trapped in a moral conundrum. But instead it just showed us the inner workings of an organisation that was tortuously, yet admirably, carrying out an important role for society. And the further it went on, the more desensitised I became. I felt like the farmer in the film I’d seen.

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

Unscorched runs at Finborough Theatre until 23rd November 2013.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/booking.php

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