Anne Cassidyís novel, Looking for JJ, won the 2004 Booktrust Teenage Book Award. Watching director Marcus Romerís thoughtful stage adaptation for Pilot Theatre, itís easy to see why, but sadly its impact as drama is less striking.
Looking for JJ has an inspired idea at its centre. In cases of violence or murder involving children, the public, quite rightly, gives appalled sympathy to the victims and, with rather less justice, looks upon the perpetrators as monsters. Cassidy invites us to see the world from the point of view of a very ordinary 17-year-old girl who, in a different world with a different identity, committed murder as a ten-year-old. The plot gains tension from tabloid attempts at finding and identifying the murderer and climaxes with a clever twist that it would be unseemly to disclose.
Thereís much to admire in the play - the lack of sensationalism, for instance, or the seriousness with which the issues are presented. In particular, the production draws on the world of MySpace and Facebook to stunning effect, with Laura McEwenís designs, James Farncombeís lighting, the sound and music of Sandy Nuttgens and the projections of A Friess combining to provide a gripping and constantly varied commentary on the action, using the screens that constitute the entire set apart from some basic furniture.
What happens in front of the screens is less exciting. The adaptation depends on an ongoing narrative from the central character, a technique thatís probably more successful on the page. In Christina Bailyís capable and committed performance, sheís almost too ordinary and isnít helped by a frequently clichťd script. Many of the other parts are under-characterised or stereotyped. Itís a tribute to Rochelle Gadd and Louise Kempton that the other two ten-year-olds on the fateful day are the most vivid and appealing characters in the play, but itís also a comment on the lack of individuality of the adult and teenage characters.
For teenagers in the audience (and the predominantly youthful audience on the night I attended was testimony to the playís relevance), Looking for JJ presents a sober, sensitive view of an issue too often obscured in hysteria or sentimentality. It also offers vivid proof of the power of visual theatre. What it lacks is the spark of character interaction and living dialogue.
- Ron Simpson (reviewed at the Theatre Royal, York)