Royal National Theatre (Cottesloe), London SE1
Opened 3 July, 2002

**** Riveting piece about murder and mourning

Bryony Lavery's remarkable 1998 play is not "about" child sexual abuse, but about how events can define our entire lives.

The play begins as a series of monologues by Ralph, a serial abuser and murderer of children, Nancy, the mother of one of his victims, and Agnetha, a criminal psychologist using Ralph as research material. At first it feels immensely restrained; it is played within a very narrow tonal band, as if director Bill Alexander and his cast wanted neither to overdramatise nor to appear to be underplaying for the same reasons. Gradually atmospheres and relationships grow defined, and an unshowy but immense potency builds up.

I keep forgetting what a wonderful actress Anita Dobson is. She can ride the dynamic of any sentence with an unfussy honesty. When Nancy is told after several years that her daughter is not just missing but dead, Dobson's very skin tone seems to grow greyer. Tom Georgeson's Ralph is a skilful portrayal of an overgrown, polluted child trying to be a grown-up hard man; Josie Lawrence's Agnetha has problems of her own even as she tries to steer between Ralph and Nancy.

In the last few years Lavery has graduated from worthy but unexciting writing to plays which are no less serious but are now dramatically, intellectually and emotionally gripping.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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