Looking for JJ, Theatre Royal, York

Young killer caught in a virtual net
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The Independent Culture

Pilot Theatre's latest production, Looking for JJ, lifts the lid on one of society's most enduring and thorny concerns. Adapted for the stage from Anne Cassidy's award-winning novel, the play confronts the issue of adolescent killers, and challenges the nature and perspective of our hunger for retribution.

Told from the viewpoint of 17-year-old Alice Tully, the assumed name of the title character, who, six years previously, had killed a playmate, Looking for JJ focuses on her problematic pursuit of anonymity.

"When you first meet the character, she's a well-adjusted, intelligent and engaging young woman," says the director and adapter Marcus Romer, "who, at a point in her life, made a very bad choice, for which she was taken from her family and then rehabilitated.

"There's a line in the play that says, 'If I don't live my life now, then it's two lives destroyed'. That's the redemptive human quality that we approach."

Haunted by her own grainy image, captured at the time of the incident yet still used as the media lead the hunt to track her down, Alice looks for solace in the networking landscape of the internet. Built into the production's design, the technological focus also becomes an apt metaphor as the media net closes in.

"We're looking at the theatricalisation of the social- networking phenomenon," says Romer. "What does a 3D MySpace look like? As Facebook friends come into Alice's world, we really see them. Yet, as the search for her closes in, she has to wipe her hard drive clean, press delete on the friends she has made. She asks: 'How much do I commit to relationships with people when ultimately they may disappear?'."

As an integral part of Pilot's ethos, audiences will be offered the chance to discuss the questions raised by the play. "Where else in our society is there a forum where that can happen?" asks Romer. "That's the function a good piece of art can have."

York Theatre Royal, Friday to 6 October (01904 623568); then Unicorn Theatre, London, 23 October to 25 November (020-7645 0560)

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