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The Times ****
Marcus Romer's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's award-winning novel, aimed at audiences aged 11 and over, makes exceptionally tough, provocative theatre. A co-production by the Unicorn, York Theatre Royal and Pilot Theatre and directed by Romer, its structure mimics an online blog. In cyberspace Alice can be anonymous; Laura McEwen's enclosing gauze-box set creates an intimate environment for sharing dangerous confidences.
So unfolds a harrowing account of more than one childhood destroyed. Alice tells of a turbulent home life with a brittle, boozy mother, whose work as a glamour model led to pornography and prostitution; of Mr Cottis, the lecherous photographer who tried to get Alice, too, to pose; of the discreetly brutal one-upmanship of competitive little girls; and of the rage and desperate longing for love that motivated a murder. Among those scattered shards of her past, 17-year-old Alice lives with a warm, intelligent foster parent, and is falling in love for the first time. Now she has everything to lose. Christina Baily compels as Alice, trapped by an image of herself as seen through society's eyes. This is a genuinely important piece of young people's theatre, every bit as thoughtful and demanding as its audience deserves
The Times ****
The Financial Tmes
The increase in plays on offer for the early and mid-teens has been a heartening development in recent years. The National Theatre has opened perhaps its best yet: a heart-rending staging of War Horse. Now Pilot Theatre, a touring company, arrives at the Unicorn with an intelligent, thoughtful show for audiences of 11 and over that quietly raises many of the big questions that prey on teenagers' minds.
Marcus Romer's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's novel links the story to the levels of identity manipulation that many teenagers engage in through online networking. The set walls teem with projected images: a physical approximation of a MySpace site. Here Jennifer tries valiantly to construct a breezy, easy-going identity but is dragged back to the past by memories.
The play raises serious questions about guilt, forgiveness and rehabilitation but it doesn't sensationalise the crime or the combination of neglect and chance that led to it. Nor does it excuse it. In Christina Baily's appealing performance, Jennifer emerges neither as villain nor victim; this wise play suggests that many lives were lost on the day of the murder.
The Financial Tmes
Pilot Theatre's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's excellent novel for teenagers is pacy and engaging. It seamlessly melds technology with live action, so it often feels as if you have fallen through a computer screen. The great thing here is that video is not an add-on but is embedded in the heart of the production.
The production is brave and thought-provoking as JJ considers whether she deserves a future after what she has done, and compassionate in its suggestion that things must work out for her - because otherwise, "it's two lives destroyed".
The questions raised in Cassidy's novel and Marcus Romer's sensitive adaptation are pertinent ones about justice and retribution and the tabloid press's determination to deliver its own rough justice. Christina Baily is superb in the title role. The play's use of video projection and MySpace-style graphics mirrors the kind of fast-moving, jump-cut narratives that our children grow up taking in their stride.
We need more shows such as Looking for JJ and in places where children might find them such as the Unicorn All power to Pilot and the Unicorn for their bravery - long may they continue.
Lyn Gardner - The Guardian Unlimited weblog
Daily Mail **** Four star review
It is a fine, timely piece of work. It is well acted, cleverly staged, it addresses a serious problem our society has with the rehabilitation of young offenders....The story, skilfully adapted by Marcus Romer from the novel by Anne Cassidy...the dilemma faced by the girl, JJ (excellently played by former Hollyoaks actress Christina Baily) There is the nightmare quality of her memories... this play is not for children - it should be taken off the Unicorn stage at once and then transfer, unchanged to a grown up venue where its powerful questions can be considered by grown up audiences....
Daily Mail **** four stars
Daily Telegraph -
...what a pleasure to welcome this gripping play for older children at the Unicorn. It's a short, sharp shock of a piece, shot through with wisdom and unsentimental compassion. the staging for Pilot Theatre is lucid and compelling. The action moves artfully backwards and forwards in time, and there is excellent use of video and watery dissolves to conjure up our heroine's vivid but jumbled memories of that fatal day by Berwick Waters.
The piece is excellent on both the casual cruelties of childhood and the damage created by irresponsible parents. Christina Baily her performance is touching and direct. Among the supporting cast, many of them playing multiple roles, I was especially taken by Melanie Ash as JJ's ghastly ''model'' of a mother, Davood Ghadami as a pervy photographer, and Suzann McLean as an unconditionally loving social worker.
This is a gripping, unsettling play that seems certain to provoke both sympathetic identification and heated discussion among its young audience.
Daily Telegraph full review click here
Evening Standard four star review ****
Here's a thought-provoking outing for older kids this half-term and even older kids when school is back. Looking for JJ, Anne Cassidy's award-winning novel for teenagers, has been niftily adapted by director Marcus Romer for a gripping 90-minute upsetting of any received views about a child who kills one of her peers.
The only shocking thing about 17-year-old Alice is her ordinariness. But one moment of madness six years previously means a life forever defined, lived in concealment and fear of a bloodhound tabloid press.
The terrific Christina Baily shows Alice in turn as genial and haunted, open and closed, as we see her preparing for university and then as she was at the age of 10, a frightened little girl desperate for affection from a feckless mother. There but for the grace of God, says Cassidy in a manner certain to make the "lock 'em up" brigade bristle, go we all.
Evening Standard ****
Time Out - critic's choice
The law wraps children involved in crime (those who perform criminal acts, as well as the victims) in a protective cloak of anonymity; we rarely get the opportunity to hear directly from the poeple that it would be most illuminating to question. What makes 'Looking for JJ' so unusual is the fact that its perspective is that of the perpetrator.
The play follows Cassidy's text closely and Romer is sensitive to the fact that the victim and her parents are not given a voice. 'Nine is the documented age at which children become aware of world events,' he tells me, pointing out that news stories such as those concerning Madeleine McCann and Rhys Jones can make children feel very anxious and it can be difficult for parents and teachers to discuss such issues. 'Anything that encourages dialogue and stimulates debate is a good thing.'
The resulting production has a feeling of authenticity. At its start we meet an engaging 18 year old just starting at university, updating her MySpace page. Ninety minutes later, we understand why the anonymity of cyberspace is so appealing to her; we've glimpsed a childhood none of us would choose, and contemplated the prospect of a life few of us could handle, lived in the shadow of regret for what ahs passed and the nerve-wracking anticipation of being identified. We want things to work out for JJ. Because - in the words of JJ's social worker, which are, says Romer, pivotal - if they don't , 'it's two lives wasted'.
Critics Choice -Time Out
London Paper **** Four stars
Can a child who has killed deserve our sympathy? Marcus Romer's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's controversial novel addresses the paradox of the murderer as victim. At 17 Jennifer Jones, played convincingly by Christina Baily, is trying to start a life of anonymous normality after serving life for killing her best friend. Pursued by a journalist, the one person she finds hardest to escape from is her bitter mother. This pacy production with fine performances will keep schoolchildren and adults gripped
London Paper **** Four stars
In an era where people express their emotions through their Facebook status and share music tastes via MySpace profiles, Pilot's 'Looking for JJ' is an appropriately spectacular multi-media explosion bursting onto York Theatre Royal's main stage this October. Pilot have their finger on the pulse. Marcus Romer's adaptation is superb. It is fragmented and spliced in such a way that the audience is never bored or patronised. Concentration is the only way to keep up with the pace and the broken nature of the piece ensures the tension never drops for a moment.
In balance with the frenetic nature of spliced music, movies and picture stills on an impressive, movable cyclorama, the performances are bold and simple. Christina Baily as JJ bares her soul to the audience in direct addresses that are perfect for the company's target teenage audience and suit the blog framework that the adaptation adopts.
It is a performance that will make you feel elated and uncomfortable in equal measure, pushing relevant questions about redemption and forgiveness to the surface. Christina's characterisation is so full of strength and warmth the audience uncomfortably writhe in their seats as they realise they are rooting for her to get away with it.
The supporting cast are equally superb, switching between numerous roles effortlessly and pulling off the difficult task of adults playing children with panache. The energy levels remain in top gear throughout and the original soundtrack is chillingly eerie, it gives even greater magnitude to the rising tension and is a credit to composer Sandy Nuttgens. As with 'Sing Yer Heart Out For the Lads' Pilot have confronted difficult issues in an innovative, fresh and accessible fashion which leaves your head buzzing with thoughts and discussions.
A fantastic show.
full BBC review here
Anne Cassidy's award-winning novel for teenagers could not be in better hands. Pilot Theatre's staging is stunning... The Pilot people are way ahead with their grasp of new technology and its applications on a stage. They are widening the scope of theatre for young people and making the oldies sit up. It is as if someone has opened a door and a howling wind has swept in.
Full Stage Review Here
Preview from The Independent here
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."
If future productions are anything as good as the Pilot Theatre's adaptation of Anne Cassidy's prize-winning novel Looking for JJ, this is to be welcomed and presents a real opportunity for young people too old for panto, but perhaps too young for full-length play, to discover a how absorbing and thought provoking good theatre can be.
Nottingham Evening Press
Anne Cassidy's novel about a child murder - and a child murderer - has been adapted for the stage and directed for Pilot Theatre by Marcus Romer. With a cast of six, it makes fascinating theatre.
The play is also concerned with the media and the contemporary cult of communal "grief" masquerading as proper grief. With its trademark blending of electronic media and back-projected film with stage acting, the production is quintessential Pilot Theatre.
We go back and forth in time as the events leading up to the crime, the killing itself, and its consequences are examined in detail. Central character Kate, brilliantly played by Christina Baily, narrates the story and gives us sometimes amusing but usually harrowing interior monologues. Dragged up by her despicable mum (Melanie Ash), we're forced to sympathise with and feel pity for Kate.
This was brilliantly designed work from Pilot Theatre, combining a multi-purpose screen onto which various images could be displayed, with ambient sounds, such as phones ringing in the background when the case officer called. At one point, suitably Shakespearean bloody hands even appeared.
Every actor impressed, particularly a versatile Melanie Ash as Alice's mother, her case officer and a duplicitous reporter.
What was great to see - and highly unusual - was The Haymarket absolutely packed to the gills with young theatregoers, which I understand was the case for most of Looking for JJ's run. Let's hope that their enjoyment of this piece leads them back to the venue, especially now that student tickets for most shows are under £10.
This is a play about the necessity to be loved and to love back really is a triumph for its director, technical team and cast. It kept me and an audience of noisy teenagers enthralled during its 85 minutes without an interval with hardly a whisper coming from them during its performance.
Arts Council Southend
Adapting Anne Cassidy's compelling teenage novel, Looking for JJ, director Marcus Romer integrated music, design and technology to produce a stunning, slick piece of theatre...
Christina Baily gives a fully rounded performance sometimes pulling at the heart yet shocking you in the flashes of the sudden wild-haired violence ...Anne Cassidy's novel presents both sides of the story, compassion and revulsion wihout favouring either...Pilot's production strikes the same moral balance...Pacy teenage drama of lost identities and a deadly past hits the mark
York Evening Press
Anne Cassidy's novel, Looking for JJ, won the 2004 Booktrust Teenage Book Award. Watching director Marcus Romer's thoughtful stage adaptation for Pilot Theatre, it's easy to see why. There's much to admire in the play - the lack of sensationalism, for instance, or the seriousness with which the issues are presented. In particular, the production draws on the world of MySpace and Facebook to stunning effect, with Laura McEwen's designs, James Fancombe's lighting, the sound and music o f Sandy Nuttgens and the projections of Arnim Friess combining to provide a gripping and constantly varied commentary on the action, using the screens that constitute the entire set apart from some basic furniture. For teenagers in the audience (and the predominantly youthful audience on the night I attended was testimony to the play's relevance), Looking for JJ presents a sober, sensitive view of an issue too often obscured in hysteria or sentimentality. It also offers vivid proof of the power of visual theatre.
Pilot Theatre does not shy away from new technologies and a great deal of Looking for JJ is displayed to us through the projection on the large white back drops with Baily's narration. Using myspace as a starting point, Pilot Theatre introduce an everyday aspect of many young people's lives, and graduate into the theatrical piece. The use of technology and the affecting sound track make this production highly accessible from the start.
Pilot have also initiated a trailer for Looking for JJ on YouTube, and in past productions offered the programme in the form of a CD-Rom. Their innovations and efforts to reach young people and bring them to the theatre are impressive, but interestingly in this production, the most affecting sequence (a scene at Berwick Waters), is done with the set stripped back, and purely through script and physical theatre.
Without question this is a good, reachable production for its target audience, Laura McLean's set is impressively sparse and functional, and opens up beautifully to become the banks of Berwick Waters. The bed is multi-purpose and well used, with significant and thoughtful props. Sandy Nuttgens' atmospheric music is excellent and proves well worth returning to on YouTube. Romer's use of projections gives you a 'mind scape' to access JJ's history, and draw you into the provoking plot.
British Theatre Guide
Now at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff, until Saturday, October 13, Pilot Theatre are presenting their stage adaptation of Anne Cassidy's best-seling young people's novel Looking for JJ with the adaptation and production by Pilot's artistic director Marcus Romer.
It is brilliantly innovative in its staging making the best use of back projected video on to its gauze set I have seen and with a continuous flow of background music and dialogue from the past as the story of JJ is unfolded.
She is a notorious child killer who killed her best friend when they were both aged about 10 and spent several years in secure accommodation before being released in her late teens with a new identity and new care supporters while the popular Press searched for her whereabouts.
The play uses minimal props and furniture as the action fades in film like scenes between past, present and future and provides a tour de force of acting for the actress playing JJ, which is generally seized on by Christine Baily, who was in the popular Channel 4 teenage soap Hollyoaks.
Other excellent performances come from Suzanne McLean as her foster mother Rosie and Dawood Ghadami, who plays three contrasting male characters in her life.
This is a play about the necessity to be loved and to love back and is so quick moving that its emotions at times seem piled on to one another but really is a triumph for its director, technical team and cast.
It kept me and an audience of noisy teenagers enthralled during its 85 minutes without an interval with hardly a whisper coming from them during its performance.
Southend-on-Sea Arts Council