Nymphs and Shepherds (A Paedophile's Life)
Black Cab Productions
It is always brave to attempt a play about paedophilia - one of society's last taboos. It's never going to have mass appeal and it is difficult to empathise with the central character. That said, David Hines' play, which transferred from the Edinburgh Festival, is a rather disappointing effort.
Oliver (played by Barold Philips) is a fiftysomething paedophile, who has spent most of his life in and out of prison because he had sex with underage girls.
When the play begins, he is waiting for the police to take him to a safe house, away from the braying mob that awaits him outside. He refers to his problem as "an ex-obsession", something we sense he doesn't really believe.
He goes through the chronology of his life: looking after an ill father, witnessing a teacher abuse a fellow pupil when he was a schoolboy, being seduced by his uncle's wife and paid a pound for his trouble. Each of these, he thinks, could provide the reason why he fancies young girls and not women. Or perhaps the answer is more simple - who would want to sleep with haggard older women when there are young attractive ones around?
Finally he progresses to his own crimes - he tells us how he groomed his victims: genning up on pop music, using compliments (girls like them apparently) and finally asking them to help him search for his lost dog - a ploy which always worked. He prides himself on being neither violent nor dangerous. The girls varied in age and temperament but all had one thing in common - they wanted him to have sex with them. Here Hines succeeds in hitting home - this is what paedophiles say in justification for their crimes. Whether they really believe it is another thing.
The trouble is I'm not sure whether all this is enough to fill eighty minutes. Once he has given us one example where he had sex with a young girl, is there any dramatic point to hearing about the others? Because it's a monologue, it is difficult for there to be any counterpoint to Oliver's internal ramblings. There's no-one to challenge his views (which include the notion that single parenthood is a form of abuse because a lone parent can't look after their children adequately).
The sole external force is the mob, but Hines fails to use them to push forward the drama. Oliver doesn't seem at all frightened or even very bothered by the fact that they are capable of killing him. He speaks with an even tone: detached, distant and even slightly bored. Barold Philips gives a restrained performance that is very one-note. He is not helped by the repetitive nature of a script that is devoid of any dramatic movement. The set too, is very sparse. A chair, a table, a tabloid newspaper and some wistful travel books of Europe that Oliver is very unlikely to get the chance to use.
In the end, Oliver is the same as when he started out - selfish, unrepentant, self-deceptive. While Hines' piece didn't set out to castigate Oliver, or justify his actions, it didn't allow the character to reach any insights either. As a play, it was never meant to entertain. But it was unfortunately not powerful enough to educate.
Reviewer: Bronagh Taggart