In 2014, the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation 'scandal' errupted, with the publishing of the Alexis Jay report. I was living in Rotherham at the time, and the streets were transformed into the site of a national scandal. I saw the emergency meetings at local mosques, social workers talking late into the night, racist protests by the EDL, Sky News outside my local naan bread shop, racist attacks in the street, and career of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner being ripped apart.
"imaginative use of lighting, sound and text to shred the murky politics of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal ... demonstrating that immersive theatre still retains the power to shock your socks off."
- The Stage
Naturally, much of the talk on the street, and even in some media, was of the ethnic heritage of the perpetrators. But what came out of the report was a picture of diligent but desperate social workers trying over and over to get the attention from a disinterested Police Force and senior Council members.
This piece didn't pull any punches. I wanted to level the accusations of institutional sexism, misogyny and classism in the police, who could have stopped these crimes for years, but for whom the brutalisation of young people was widely known to be thought of as just 'scum on scum' crime.
This idea was written up by myself, writer Ben Jackson and director Heather Morgan, and selected by Theatre Deli for their opening show at their new building in Sheffield.
Our performers guided the audience into a holding room, hung with tarpaulin, before leading them directly into our main space: a pitch black void with a centre space cordoned off by tape a few feet from the walls.
They enter, and the performance is all around them, appearing as fleeting flashes in the dark. We used interpretive movements, sounds, and actions, as well as some dialogue, forcing the audience to look around them, into the darkness itself.
Meanwhile, an echoing soundscape - played from hidden speakers all around the room - told the stories surrounding the scandal; footsteps, councillors, meeting, documents shredding.
At the end all three performers us leave the room and turn on the lights, revealing the space as an evidence locker containing items from a childhood. The voice of Shaun Wright is then played - the Police Commissioner at the time - and the information on the information sheet is read aloud.
We selected the largest room in the building for the task (14m by 7m), and to eliminate all light polution we had to build a 14m wall out of recycled materials. We also had to learn to walk in the pitch darkness while performing.
"a devastatingly powerful performance piece made in response to the Rotherham child abuse scandal. It utilised total darkness and a distressing mixture of warped sounds, including sound-bites taken directly from the report, the shrill sound of a paper shredder, and an ominous, steady beat. Intimidating, frightening and provocative, the real impact of this show came at the end, when the lights were turned on to reveal a child’s bedroom scene."
"Thought-provoking and clever"
- Sheffield Star
"It was an intense experience that combined lighting effects, recordings, live action and brilliant audience control to produce a work that was tense and exciting to be a part of whilst making and inviting intelligent political and social comment. If you see a police officer wandering around the building, follow him."
- Now Then