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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Controversy of consent
Ben Silverstone plays the child killer
The play has become the controversy of the Fringe
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters in Edinburgh

Peter Morris' play The Age of Consent has generated enormous controversy, which is not necessarily a bad thing at the Edinburgh Festival, and it is easy to see why.

One half of the play, which takes the form of two disparate and alternating monologues, is inspired by the killing of James Bulger and the incarceration of a fictional child killer.

Ben Silverstone plays the killer, who is meant to be an amalgam of Jon Venables or Robert Thompson, the real-life killers of James Bulger.

The second monologue features a pushy mother, who is forcing her daughter into show business and ever increasing danger.

The half that has engendered the controversy is neither lurid or sensational and is a controlled piece of writing which examines what might have happened to Venables or Thompson from the moment they were jailed to the moment of possible release.

Katherine Parkinson
Katherine Parkinson plays a pushy mother
Morris' play fills the vacuum that the news blackout on the two killers has created and portrays a 19-year-old, called Timmy, who is seeking answers to his own actions and to the responses of those around him.

It is a challenging work which asks questions about identity, remorse, selfhood and the demonising of killers.

The simple staging of a single chair and a white backdrop, reminiscent of a photographer's studio works well and Silverstone gives a sharp performance as the nervous teenager who wonders what will happen to him when he is released.

The second monologue, featuring Katherine Parkinson, works less well and has a predictable narrative and an inconsistent tone.

The character Stephanie is both knowing and naïve, clumsy and articulate and is a poor caricature at best, although she is given some great comedy lines to work with.

The writer seems on the verge of saying that a mother who forces her identity onto a child can push that child into dangerous situations.

The play examines that balance of parental involvement - too little and a child can lose a sense of identity and treat all others as worthless, too much and the child can be stifled, squashed and reduced as a person.

Morris draws on the irony that Venables or Thompson must return to the nobodies they once were before the murder if they are to survive.

Murder gave them an identity, but the play rightly points out that both teenagers, no matter how awful and repugnant their actions, are more than just one-dimensional evil killers.

The Age of Consent is on at Pleasance Above until 19 August

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