A lower-middle-class terraced house in a northern town, elderly Mrs Everton (Susan ‘Angels Are So Few’ Richard) receives a routine visit from her daughter Beth (Alethea ‘The Bankrupt’ Charlton). But amongst the tea and pleasantries, something is amiss – Mrs E is looking shifty, worried, frightened. She won’t tell Beth what it is, though it must have something to do with Sammy, one of her two cats, having recently been run over. Suddenly, she says she must ‘go somewhere’, and Beth reluctantly minds the flat (and remaining cat) while she goes on her mysterious errand. Her destination turns out to be the police station, where Sergeant Carter (Stanley ‘Macready’s Gala’ Meadows) hears her tale of intimidation at the hands of two local youths – they threatened to kill her cats and have been taking a pound a week of her as ‘protection’ ever since. Carter visits the boy’s home, where mum Mrs Jones proves as difficult to talk to as the accused brothers Peter and Lawrence (Jack Wild and his real life brother Arthur). Peter, the youngest, is petrified, clinging to the taciturn, mouthy Lawrence for help. Mrs J threatens them with violence, they squabble amongst themselves, Lawrence claims he needed the money for a holiday for Peter, and Carter gets nowhere. After he leaves, a telling teatime standoff occurs between Mrs J and Lawrence – she is clearly afraid of her son, over whom she has no control. The best she can do is threaten him with their still-absent dad.
At Mrs Everton’s, the whole story comes out, and Beth and her husband (David ‘The Gorge’ Webb) try to talk through things calmly, but the prospect of a court case and local headlines lead Beth to round angrily on her mother, accusing her of ‘pushing away’ her and her siblings, then pathetically calling for help in her lonely dotage. At the Jones’, Mr J arrives home and a similar row ensues with his wife, he accusing her of spinelessness in the face of Lawrence’s posturing, she of fatherly neglect. Beth and Frank return home and, after sending their young son (on whom Beth, we learn, dotes to an extreme degree) off to sleep with nursery rhymes, they reflect on events more calmly. Beth agrees to make up with he mum the next day, though something she said – that the malevolent youths could well have included her children – sticks in her mind.
At the Jones’, Lawrence sends Peter to sleep with a story of his own devising, about the two brothers escaping to a foreign shore. Mrs Everton prays tearfully, alone, before turning in for the night. It’s not only the police involvement that gives this play a similarity to writer John Hopkins’ work on Z-Cars – the two domestic milieux – lower-middle and working class – could have come from Newtown itself. But 75 minutes allows more light and shade to be cast then in an episode of that series, and the subtleties of the dilemma and the characters’ takes on in are well sketched. Mrs Everton, in particular, starts off scared, becomes defiant, then instantly regrets her decision to tell the police, and finally all but breaks down after her daughter’s barrage of insults. The point that the two brothers are, or feel themselves to be, alone together in their unloving family is deftly made, as are the various sides of the debate on the limits and scope of juvenile punishment.
One device that moves the play away from police procedural styles into more typically Wednesday Play fare is the use of interstitial location footage of children of increasing ages playing increasingly less innocent games – they begin playing cowboys and Indians, watch a young girl parody a stripper, then lurk in the bushes to watch a couple snogging, and finally some teenagers set fire to an abandoned car. The point made here is obvious, and possibly slightly overdone, but the scenes, like the rest of the play, are well-staged by the reliable Christopher Morahan.