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A CurtainUp London Review
Fiona Evans' play, a previous version of which won an Edinburgh Fringe First, comes to London's Royal Court in a new production. It is based in Act One around a 29 year old teacher Lauren (Holly Atkins) and her pupil Daz (Jack O'Connell), on the eve of his sixteenth birthday. These two are embroiled in a sexual affair, dangerous for the teacher because she would lose her job if this got out, sex with a fifteen year old is statutory rape, and problematic for the boy because his inexperience makes him especially emotionally vulnerable. This is a weekend full of guilt, confusion and recrimination as this odd couple are pulled together by a strong sexual attraction. They make love and argue and make love again.
As the scene progresses we feel the claustrophobia as Lauren does not dare to go outside the room. Daz ventures out and teases her by telling her he has seen the head teacher from their school in a Scarborough street, apparently following them, and Lauren flips in panic until the joke is revealed. Towards the end of the weekend Lauren tells Daz that she was seduced by her swimming coach when she was 13 and he was 31, that she is still with him and they are planning to marry soon. This information is an authorial device for Daz to show how unrealistic his feelings are for Lauren as he declares that his rival "will soon be dead!" It is at this point that we are reminded that this is a sexual relationship between an adult and a child and why this is unlikely not to be exploiting the child. The fact that the teacher is hurting too is incidental. It is an abuse of power. We are told, are we not, that those abused as children often become adult abusers themselves.
There is an interval and when we came back I thought we were to see a flash back of the events between Lauren aged 13 and her swimming coach in the same hotel room. But then I realised that the words were the same as we had heard in the first act, only now it was Aiden (Daniel Mays) a male 29 year old teacher with Beth (Rebecca Ryan) his 15 year old pupil. Fiona Evans has made the script work with every word repeated, the only difference being the sex of the teacher and pupil. It makes for a very unusual theatrical experience because in the second half we know what is about to be said. So we start asking questions about what difference does the sex of the adult make to our perception of the moral rights and wrongs of the affair.
Jack O'Connell as Daz gives a very fine performance, edgy, immature, volatile and sincere as the boy caught up in a sexual adventure which he doesn't have control over. Holly Atkins seems at times depressed, at others reckless whereas her male equivalent Daniel Mays as Aiden seems a weak, indecisive man. Rebecca Ryan as Beth, although she looks very young, is more in control and seems to handle the dumping better than the boy — of course she is angry and upset but we feel that she will be ok.
I found the premise that each 13 year old has remained sixteen years in a monogamous relationship with their swimming coach abuser more than a little unlikely although 17 and 18 year olds do fall in love with their teachers and can stay with them. Fiona Evans' play will get us thinking about whether there are perpetrators and victims or whether they are both victims in this last taboo.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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