It's rare to come out of a theatre feeling as though you want to burst into tears. Not just a "something in the eye" emotional response, but a full-on sobbing for the quiet analysts investigating the most hideous crimes against children, and for those children, many of whom may never be found.
Luke Owen's first play (winner of the 2013 Papatango New Writing Prize) is remarkable in its ability to shed light on a subject most people prefer not to think about, but which for Tom and Nidge is their job. They spend their working lives watching videos and looking at websites that depict child abuse, trying to find evidence to trace the children and the men who abuse them. An unendurable task for most, but these people are driven by the desire to make a difference, even though the work takes a heavy toll on their humanity, their social lives and their relationships. Everything becomes infected with what they have seen, the smallest thing reminding them of the evil they witness on a daily basis.
Unscorched is not without its gentle humour, as Tom meets Emily at an awkward speed dating event, or Nidge selects a game or TV show to watch as a brief distraction from the work.
Ronan Raftery is excellent as Tom, the IT expert who joins the team with all the enthusiasm of the new recruit before quickly discovering the true devastation that such work has on the psyche. John Hodgkinson's Nidge, the senior analyst, is full of compassion and support for his young colleagues while showing a degree of detachment from the work. "If you care, it will kill you," he says. Does he really not care, or is he repressing a tsunami of emotional breakdown? Eleanor Wyld is convincing as Emily, the girlfriend who struggles to understand the depths of the emotional damage Tom suffers.
Georgia Lowe's set design is ingenious, with a series of cubes, cupboards and niches cleverly transforming from office to flat to pub.
Deftly directed by Justin Audibert, Unscorched is a sensitive and thought-provoking portrayal of a difficult subject and the unsung people who devote their lives to investigating the unforgivable. An amazing debut to a writing career.