Distance’s writer-director Gareth Lewis has made a compelling choice of subject for his latest work, which seems especially pertinent at a time when many prominent figures have been accused of serial child abuse. Questioning society’s inability to fully process the realities of abuse, Distance asks us whether emotional scars can afford us an understanding of crime and explores how it tears relationships apart.
Straight-laced family man Morgan visits his brother Vincent, a serial child abuser, in prison after spending a decade out of contact. Although disgusted by his brother’s violent actions, it is in pressuring him to explain his crimes that Morgan begins to sympathise with Vincent’s past tragedies and discover what makes a criminal.
Paul Findlay embodies the role of Vincent extremely convincingly, presenting a strong and focused character throughout the play. His confident stance and relaxed physicality at the beginning of the play set him up as an unrepentant, aggressive personality, ready for this to be dissected by his brother. Findlay’s performance was especially moving in moments when was close to tears, but held his emotions back. This consistently made it clear that although he had been hardened by his time in prison and was bound by his overtly masculine identity, Vincent was deeply affected by his childhood experiences of abuse.
However my perception of Morgan (Edward Llewellyn) was totally lost due to the staging. Because the actor had his back to most of the audience for the vast majority of the play, I had no concept of his reactions to Vincent’s story, or his attitude towards his disgraced brother. The whole story was therefore very one-sided and didn’t feel fully fleshed out. Although this functioned well to focus the action on Vincent, there was a feeling of missing an important part of the story.
Morgan’s struggle to understand his brother’s crimes is reflective of society’s compulsion to rationalise child abuse, alongside its discomfort at the thought that it may be explicable. Lewis’s script presents the perpetrator not as an evil monster, but as a deeply flawed and disturbed individual, and questions if Vincent’s past trauma can go any way to excusing his barbaric deeds. The particularly haunting aspect of the script was that, in spite of my revulsion at the thought of child abuse, I found myself increasingly sympathetic and understanding of Vincent’s plight by the end of the play. Distance is a moving and thought-provoking piece which tackles a very tough subject with tact and skill, and is well worth a watch.
Distance played at Barons Court Theatre. For more information see the Off West End website.