Looking for JJ
Anne Cassidy (adapted by Marcus Romer)
Pilot Theatre Company
York Theatre Royal
Pilot Theatre Company specialise in theatre designed for young people. Their target audience of teenagers and under 25s are asked to question whether it should be 'a life for a life' in Marcus Romer's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's award winning book Looking for JJ.
Christina Baily plays Alice Tully who recounts the story of JJ and how and why she becomes Alice Tully. She explains the photos and the history, leading us slowly into her boyfriend, her foster mother, her real mother and finally why, one day, when JJ was ten, she went for a walk with her two best friends and when the children returned, one of them was missing.
Pilot Theatre does not shy away from new technologies and a great deal of Looking for JJ is displayed to us through the projection on the large white back drops with Baily's narration. Using myspace as a starting point, Pilot Theatre introduce an everyday aspect of many young people's lives, and graduate into the theatrical piece. The use of technology and the affecting sound track make this production highly accessible from the start.
Pilot have also initiated a trailer for Looking for JJ on YouTube, and in past productions offered the programme in the form of a CD-Rom. Their innovations and efforts to reach young people and bring them to the theatre are impressive, but interestingly in this production, the most affecting sequence (a scene at Berwick Waters), is done with the set stripped back, and purely through script and physical theatre.
Without question this is a good, reachable production for its target audience, however it may leave other audiences some what unaffected. The YouTube clip quotes 'a killer's smile?' and Baily certainly smiles from the start, but her happy exterior never seems to quite authenticate the possibility of being a murderer, nor any real question of suppressed, simmering guilt.
Melanie Ash, playing Jill/Carol/Sara, morphs well from focused, hard working woman, to attention seeking, neglectful mother, to frumpy neighbour but all of these remain a little two-dimensional. Rochelle Gadd and Louisa Kempton (playing Lucy and Michelle) enliven the best scenes as 10 year olds, without 'dumbing down' their performances.
Laura McLean's set is impressively sparse and functional, and opens up beautifully to become the banks of Berwick Waters. The bed is multi-purpose and well used, with significant and thoughtful props. Sandy Nuttgens' atmospheric music is excellent and proves well worth returning to on YouTube. Romer's use of projections gives you a 'mind scape' to access JJ's history, and draw you into the provoking plot.
Pilot certainly brings you a young person's unfolding identity, chequered by the past, at an age when our actions are as yet irresponsible. However there is little moral dilemma and Alice (or JJ) is made almost patronisingly likeable from the start. This piece is more suitable to the younger age range of Pilot's audience, who will undoubtedly find it affecting; however it may miss older audiences, who could be put off by the lack of credit Pilot gives their viewers.
Reviewer: Cecily Boys