Award-winning American playwright Peter Morris has run into controversy again, with the family of murdered Liverpool toddler James Bulger attacking his new work as "sick and pathetic". The play, a series of monologues entitled The Age of Consent (pictured), is running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival's Pleasance Courtyard until 19 August 2001.

Morris has made no attempt to hide the fact that the Bulger case provided the inspiration for The Age of Consent. The script features a teenager named Timmy, who relates his experiences of committing a murder and then describes his later rehabilitation process. Timmy also portrays his mixed feelings for the victim's mother, and makes a plea to the audience to regard him as a human being as opposed to something evil.

The controversy surrounds not only Morris' use of the Bulger incident, but also the fact that his company regards sections of the drama as "chillingly funny". Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, said "It is just designed to try to shock people and grab publicity, and to sink so low they are clearly desperate".

The Age of Consent may yet even come under greater scrutiny, as it contains a further monologue which brushes with paedophilia and a woman's self-justification for abusing. Channel 4's satirical show Brass Eye came in for widespread criticism (and also a fair level of support) when it dealt with such themes recently.

However, a spokesperson for Morris' production claims that The Age of Consent is "trying to demystify the almost universal perception that in order to do what they did the boys had to be evil monsters, irrational and somehow not fully human". They also point out that the play was written some time before recent discussions concerning the release of Bulger's killers back into society.

Morris is no stranger to debate concerning his Edinburgh offerings. His Fringe 2000 production, The Second Amendment Club, was based on shootings that took place at Denver's Columbine High School. The play included a tape of footage from the shooting and also ran for three weeks at London's Union Theatre. Morris studied at Yale, and received the 1998 International Playscript Prize for his debut work The Square Root of Minus One.

- by Gareth Thompson