The Bad Seed, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre – Review

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Beth Eyre and Rebecca Rayne

The myth of the ‘bad child’ is a popular staple of folklore, prompting the perennial debate of nurture versus nature. The Bad Seed – which is currently enjoying a revival at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre – was also once a movie in the late 1950s, at a time when McCarthyism metaphors about ‘the enemy from within’ were sublimated from the community to one’s own family. The twin developments of rock’n’roll and the hitherto unknown youth culture in the 20th century precipitated a massive cultural shift. Movies such as Children of the Damned then sprung up and suddenly ‘one had to be vigilant’ for spotting wayward signs in one’s children…

Adapted by seasoned screenwriter Maxwell Anderson from William March’s novel, The Bad Seed begins with Kenneth Penmark (Andrew Futaishi) saying goodbye to his wife Christine (Beth Eyre) and his daughter Rhoda (Rebecca Rayne), before he goes to Washington on work-related business. Mother and daughter aren’t by themselves, however, as their landlady Monica Bredlove (Jessica Hawksley) who lives in the apartment above them, is a regular visitor. Bredlove also at this time brings along her brother Emory Wages (Daniel Osgerby) and his friend Reginald Tasker (Aneirin George) – a writer of crime fiction. During Rhoda’s school outing, a boy from her class drowns – found without a penmanship medal he’s just won. While no one vocally casts aspersions on anyone, the general consensus of those on the trip is that Rhoda is involved with what’s transpired – especially as she felt cheated at not winning the medal…

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Photo credits © David Montieth-Hodge

Even though the play is a gender-balanced production, The Bad Seed is unusual in that it is a play from 60 years ago where the female characters drive the play in terms of plot, perspective and emotional character arcs. Eyre delivers a truthful performance as the understandably frayed Christine, who apart from still being troubled by childhood dreams, struggles to come to terms with what she’s discovered about her child. Can oneself be to blame if a child hasn’t developed a sense of right or wrong, or the capacity for empathy and remorse? And why can no one else see what Rhoda’s like?

The input from Bredlove and Tasker gives Christine food for thought regarding nurture versus nature, and we can see in Christine regarding her psychological dilemma that she is in many ways an archetypal Hitchcockian protagonist. The behaviour Mrs Daigle (Lucinda French) the mother of the deceased boy and Miss Fern (Jessica Gilhooley) the school headmistress mirrors the battle going in Christine’s head, torn between prudent but assertive action and sheer panic.

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Rhoda, often to be found thinking ahead and looking at the bigger picture…

This of course leads us to Rhoda herself… Rayne masterfully demonstrates the dichotomy in the young ‘sociopath’, displaying a knowingness that is tempered by observance of superficial social cues. If ‘evil’ is the delberate, malicious action against another, then Rhoda acts on a purely instinctual level, whose core is obfuscated by her preternaturally neat nature.

As the only adult who can see through Rhoda’s ‘glamour’ to her true nature – perhaps because he isn’t ‘sophisticated’ or have any pretensions, Leroy (Brian Merry) from Rhoda’s perspective is an irritant, something to ‘tolerate’ until her hand is forced…

The Bad Seed poses a number of questions for its audience, primarily how would one behave in the same circumstances. One could, of course, just watch it as a ‘thriller’ or a domestic drama, but where it works best, I think, is prompting us to think about what is ‘acceptable behaviour’ and what can be done, if at all, about nuturing empathy where it doesn’t exist. Despair itself is a slippery slope indeed…

© Michael Davis 2017

four-stars

The Bad Seed runs at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 1st April 2017.

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