2,000 Feet Away

Published June 17, 2008

Plays concerning paedophilia are never comfortable viewing. In the intimate environment of the Bush, Anthony Weigh’s 2,000 Feet Away can feel positively claustrophobic, writes Matthew Amer.

Gone is the proscenium arch and raked auditorium of the Bush’s last production Tinderbox, in its place is a rectangle of performance space bordered on three sides by an audience who could, if they so wished, reach out and touch the actors.

As Joseph Fiennes is one such performer, it might be surprising that more theatregoers didn’t try to do just that, what with his Hollywood heartthrob looks. Yet the subject of Weigh’s play – a law introduced proclaiming that child sex offenders cannot live within 2,000 feet of anywhere that children congregate – means stray hands would be at their least appropriate.

Fiennes plays a small town Iowan Deputy, the kind of local law enforcement operative known by the entire community since he was a boy, welcomed into homes, fed with whatever is available, yet also mocked by familiarity. When it comes to enforcing the 2,000 feet rule, he feels awkward. Where isn’t 2,000 from an area children could congregate? Only a motel in the middle of nowhere.

This awkwardness pervades Fiennes’s entire performance. His questioning eyes are rarely certain about anything. When he is finally pushed to make a stand, the internalised rage streams forth until he is once again bullied back into his own questioning world.

The supporting cast presents a snapshot of small town views; the father who finds solace in tradition and would happily disown his son, the mother who remembers him as the child, the concerned citizen who would abuse the rules to achieve her aims, the Bible-quoting café owner and the cocksure teenager who knows too much for her own good.

Ian Hart, in a rare stage outing, is worryingly likeable as possible paedophile AG. The audience never knows quite what act he committed, though there is the suggestion of a teacher/student relationship in the play’s opening scene. He could blend into society without a shred of effort and, from what we see of him, may never wrong anyone ever again. Does he need to be removed at all?

This, of course, is the crux of the matter, this and where he should go. Weigh’s script, littered with religious righteousness and animalistic symbolism, repeatedly returns to the Pied Piper of Hamlin. If he had nowhere to drown the rats, what would he have done with them?

MA

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