Mud sticks. As you’ll know. We probably all have a story of a creepy teacher who went out of his (for it was rarely a woman) way to lure girls into the stationery cupboard. And in most cases, he was most probably just a guy who liked to make sure his pupils had what they needed to study. But a mutter turns into a question turns into a rumour and before you know it, it’s unequivocal fact.
Add in the internet, fake news, a bunch of colourful pussy-grabbing characters whom even fake news proponents couldn’t make up – and you’ve got mud that spreads. Operation Yewtree gave us mud of a whole different viscosity. Rightly or wrongly, Cliff Richard‘s sun-soaked Summer Holiday may never seem so innocently joyful again. The singer’s house was raided in 2014 by the Metropolitan Police as part of their investigation. Lawyers have subsequently said that singer – who has been cleared of all sex abuse allegations – continues to suffer “profound and long-lasting damage” to the extent that he recently took the BBC to task about their source for the leak. The case may end up going to court.
Yewtree was launched on the back of the Jimmy Savile case. As someone who grew up wishing devoutly that Jim would fix it for me, one of the particularly horrifying characteristics of the case was the number of people who apparently knew exactly what was going on but turned a blind eye.
So all of this set me to thinking about this term, paedophile and what it’s come to mean. We don’t tend to drown people any more if they live alone, keep cats and dole out home-grown remedies to their neighbours. But as a nation, we’re very quick to label anti-social loners of a certain age with this playground insult “paedo” – and is that any less unjust?
Ty, the photographer in our play, is photographing teenagers for his latest exhibition. His girlfriend, Heloise, tries to warn him that people are asking questions: “they think it is strange,” she says, “a man of a certain age without any children of his own.” Flung prematurely into the French movie industry as a teenager herself, she has more of an idea than many of the damage that the media can do.
This is a story of the damage that a label can do. A story of love – or love for celebrity. Of the power that a teenager has over an adult when the adult world is full of suspicious minds. The best theatre, I believe, should leave the audience with questions. beauty, I hope, will leave people with plenty.