Editorial: Tough viewing is worth its weight

Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014

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Dramatists are doing what dramatists should. They are drawing audiences into stories from which we might otherwise flinch.

Promptly after the weekend screening of the Louise Nicholas telefilm Consent a play titled Portraits based on the murder rape of Owaka teenager Kylie Smith, is being staged in Invercargill tomorrow and Thursday.

Neither work could fairly be called salacious or exploitative. Nicholas has given her benediction to the treatment of her own story and Dawn Smith is similarly glad that her daughter Kylie's is still, for all its sorrows, being upheld as one worth telling.

It won't escape notice that these dramas have a family connection. Consent features teen actress Thomasin Harcourt-McKenzie, whose mother, actress-writer Miranda Harcourt was a co-writer of Portraits and of another piece being staged alongside it this week, Verbatim.

All draw on interviews with those who have felt the impact of crime. And let the record show that Harcourt performed Verbatim in Invercargill prison when it first came out nearly two decades ago. That was, by any standards, brave: confrontational in the best way.

We might find it a pleasing thought that some offenders be exposed to at least a reflection of the harm they do. The question now, though, is whether the rest of us are up for those insights. Some might not be feeling robust enough to expose themselves to the upset.

Nobody in the audiences could have had the raw vulnerability of Nicholas and Dawn Smith and both have acknowledged difficulties with some scenes. For Nicholas it was the scene where she tells her children about what she went through: for Dawn Smith it was seeing her daughter's killer Paul Bailey portrayed well. She had hoped for fresh insights into his offending. Instead, sadly, it appears to be his capacity for denial that more strongly comes through.

These stories may be historical but the issues aren't. Among them are political and social questions about how our laws, and their enforcers, treat issues of consent and parole. Weighty issues like that shouldn't be addressed only from electioneering soap-boxes. Good drama also plays at least some part in helping us consider them.

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- The Southland Times

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