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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 176 Contents

Socialist Review, June 1994

Sarah Finigan


Sign of life


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Peripheral Violence
by Robert Lindsay Wilson

Childhood should be a time when we learn through enjoyment about the world in which we live. Peripheral Violence shows us that under capitalism childhood clearly is nothing of the sort.

The play takes us into the lives of three children, two brothers and a girlfriend, brought up on a working class estate in Glasgow. Set in the present and culminating in a murder committed by the three children, the play has obvious parallels with the murder of Jamie Bulger. The production was delayed until after the Bulger court case.

Unlike the news coverage of that case, this play concentrates on the deprivation and poverty of the children’s surroundings. The children are painfully aware of their working class status.

The squalor and violence that the children face every day – the two boys sharing a urine soaked bed, the beatings from their Dad, the girl, Natasha, suffering sexual abuse – result in their humanity being destroyed. This reaches a terrible climax during the murder scene when the children take it in turns to shoot a man. They treat it as a game and have no sense that what they are doing is murder.

With an eye to the argument that child crime is the product of poor parenting, this play shows that for working class people there’s not much chance of being a ‘good’ parent anyway. The conditions in which people are forced to live, not parental responsibility, are the real issue.

During the course of the play the boys’ Dad gets arrested outside the club where he drinks. Later, after describing to Andy, his son, some of the horrors of his own childhood, Andy asks him why the police arrested him. His response, in the final moments of the play, is inspiring.

Andy: Why did they take you Da?
Dad: Because I gave them a sign.
Andy: What sign?
Dad: I gave them the sign of life. Opposition, that’s our sign of life.

Because of its subject matter, Peripheral Violence is necessarily a pretty grim play, but there are touching and even funny moments. Most moving perhaps is the fact that these kids are not different in any way, but share the same hopes and dreams as any other children. The tragedy is that their dreams are shattered and by the end of the play four lives have been crushed by the weight of the class system.

Peripheral Violence plays at the Cockpit Theatre, London NW1, until 11 June

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