Crossing the Line—the Full Story

Michael Sheath
Joanna Lavelle

Joanna Lavelle

Reports of sexual and physical abuse have increased during lockdown. A revival of Michael Sheath’s 2018 monologue (now expanded and re-titled Crossing the Line—the Full Story) is depressingly appropriate. Based on real-life cases, the separate but linked monologues cover an incident of abuse from the viewpoint of the offender, his wife, the investigating officer and the mother of an abused child.

Sole performer Joanna Lavelle is on particularly fine form as Diana, the offender’s spouse. The opening monologue examines the widely-held opinion that the wife must be aware of abuse while it is ongoing. Deeply humiliated Lavelle swings from scathing criticism of what she sees as inane advice from officers of Children’s Services to horrified contemplation of whether the abuse might have been avoided had she not rejected her husband’s efforts to interest her in pornography.

The overriding atmosphere of the second monologue, captured in Lavelle’s weary performance as the investigating officer, is a sense of futility. Lavelle can anticipate every justification made by the offender having heard them all before and despairs of ever finding a solution. The grim details of the tasks completed by officers while undertaking an investigation (including watching the pornography) are particularly distasteful.

The first two monologues are the most dramatically satisfying with endings that, when reached, seem tragically inevitable. Author Michael Sheath dismisses the argument that using pornography to fantasise about violent sexual abuse is acceptable on the grounds it does not constitute ‘actual’ abuse. The justifications put forward by the abuser are dismissed with the comment "Selfish! Selfish! Selfish!". The staggering self-delusion exhibited by the offender (who claims his descent into child pornography is a result of accidentally ‘crossing the line’ and takes offence at the suggestion he might abuse his own children) is treated with contempt.

Yet towards the end of the monologues, the author seems concerned his point might not be getting across. The resulting heavy-handed approach in the final section spoils an otherwise powerful and disturbing piece of work.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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