Theatre review: We Are Not Criminals

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The horrific bullying and subsequent death of a child forms the dark heart of Sarah Stirton’s impressive new play, but it’s the “criminals” you come to sympathise with.

We Are Not Criminals

theSpace on the Mile (Venue 39)

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The horrific bullying and subsequent death of a child forms the dark heart of Sarah Stirton’s impressive new play, but it’s the “criminals” you come to sympathise with. Ten-year old Sophie is harried into swallowing pills by a group of five girls and later found dead. Fifteen years later the perpetrators are reunited by Clara (Stirton) at her flat. Most have paid their dues in remand centres and, in Clara’s case, even prison. Only Kathryn (Ellis Eve Sharp) escaped confinement but all are scarred – some more than others.

This is cleverly constructed and sharply written by Stirton – quite remarkably so for a debut play. It’s also exceptionally well performed by a cast made up of students and graduates from Edinburgh Napier University’s Acting and English programme. So much so, in fact, that you strongly suspect that Stilton has tailored her plays to the actresses’ particular strengths. Each character is finely drawn: Hannah (Rhona Mackay) has a genteel patina of adulthood far beyond her years; Abbie (Lisa Robertson) meekly asserting a “mustn’t grumble” sunny disposition that may well be a facade, while Lucy (Hannah Barretto) appears the most damaged, still retaining her virginity as if it were her last vestige of innocence. Clara, you begin to suspect, may not have quite left her bullying days behind – a remnant of time served in prison.

There’s a tragic inevitability to the unfolding events, and while the denouement – which you shouldn’t see coming – can’t match the harrowing power of the opening scene, it’s still satisfying.

This is an unusually strong Fringe debut by Forty Elephants Theatre Company, which aims to “bring more tenacious female roles to the theatre” and has certainly succeeded admirably here. It’s also a more than promising debut as a dramatist from Stirton – a rock solid piece founded on five excellent performances that deserves a much wider audience.

Rory Ford

Until tomorrow. Tomorrow 3:05pm.