The TheatreguideLondon Review
Finborough Theatre Autumn 2013
Luke Owen's Unscorched has all the virtues of a promising writer's first play – earnestness, sincerity, and a complete devotion to its subject – and all the weaknesses – a focus on ideas rather than action, a tendency to tell rather than show, and generally an elevation of theme over drama.
These are imperfections rather than failings, and Unscorched deserves viewing for its own merits as well as for the promise of more mature work to come from this new playwright.
Owen's subject is work-related stress of a very specific kind. His central characters are law enforcement backroom guys who examine suspect websites for child pornography, reporting their discoveries (ranked from Level One for simple nudity to an undescribed and presumably indescribably awful Level Five) for further investigation and prosecution.
What is it like to look at the obscenely horrible all day? Tom, a new employee, is warned repeatedly that he will find some of what he sees unbearable, and he does. He is assured repeatedly that he will eventually harden himself so it doesn't traumatise him, and he does and then wonders if that isn't worse.
Meanwhile we see some of the secondary effects, from the trivial – how do you tell people what you do for a living without freaking them out? – to the more serious – how do you have a normal romantic life when sex disgusts you?
The seventy-minute play is long enough to lay out the problem, especially since much of it comes in the spelled-out form of Tom's orientation lectures and conversations with a more seasoned co-worker, but that leaves barely enough time to introduce the girlfriend Tom will be unable to relate to or to dramatise any of the other effects of the job on him or his colleagues.
These are, as I said, the typical shortcomings of a beginning playwright. What is not typical and makes Unscorched worth seeing is Luke Owen's insight in spotting a dramatic subject others have missed, his ability to capture and communicate its reality and seriousness, and the indications, not fully realised here, that he can create individualised characters and believable dialogue.
Justin Audibert directs with a fluidity that masks the playwright's difficulty in sustaining any scene much longer than four or five minutes, and Ronan Raftery as Tom, Eleanor Wyld as his girlfriend and John Hodgkinson and George Turvey as sympathetic co-workers serve the playwright admirably by fleshing out the barely-sketched characterisations.
Review - Unscorched - Finborough Theatre 2013