Shine A Light

Combating violence with forgiveness: teenage knife-crime in London

A review of UNPROVOKED, a new play about girl-on-girl knife crime in London.

Clare Coatman
16 November 2011

UNPROVOKED’ is a new play based on the girl-on-girl murder of fifteen-year-old Charlotte Polius in 2005. After Saturday night’s performance of the play, Charlotte’s mother, Mary Foley, took to the stage.

Foley, who collaborated closely with the playwright Kathrine Smith, was visibly upset at having witnessed the dramatisation of her daughter’s killing, and being prompted to consider “what might have happened that fateful night.” She said it was “very realistic”, and “very difficult to see”, but that, “We don’t want her death to be in vain – and it hasn’t been.”

Since her daughter’s murder at a birthday party in Ilford, east London, in 2005, Foley has been giving talks to prisoners and youth groups about the power of forgiveness and the repercussions of violence. We heard how one boy in prison for murder had said: “From hearing your story I want to go and meet my victim’s mother.” 

Asked how she began the process of forgiving her child’s killer, Foley said: “It began with anger and resentment, for example at how immaculately she was dressed in court. I was changing, I was ill. I went to a dark place. I knew it wasn’t me. I began to retreat from my family. I didn’t want to get emotionally close to my other children.

“Over the weeks the word ‘forgiveness’ kept coming to me and the more I entertained it I felt relief and empathy, and one day I chose it. When I decided to forgive it was a weight off my shoulders. I became a human being again. It was a journey but it was the best thing I’ve ever done.”

One of the most impressive demonstrations of Foley’s compassion was her understanding of the difficult circumstances in which her daughter’s killer grew up. This was mirrored in the play: the audience is moved towards understanding the murderer when we hear that her father stabbed her mother on the way to court to support their daughter.

UNPROVOKED’s predominantly teenage cast feels authentic, and portrays the huge emotions of anger, guilt and grief beautifully. They use ‘street’ language without seeming contrived.

 A large projection screen with changing slides establishes the street where the play opens, numerous girls’ bedrooms, the party, the funeral and the court room — as well as sharing characters’ text messages with the audience. A bench becomes the dock for the trial. The bare brick wall of Chalk Farm’s Roundhouse Studio is a stark setting for the mother’s outpouring of grief.

The young audience gave a standing ovation to Mary Foley who urged people to, “Take the message out into the houses, into the schools, into the prisons. I really want it to impact people’s lives. Forgiveness is not a weakness, it isn’t a soft approach – it takes strength.”

The preview of UNPROVOKED ran on the 12th and 13th of November at the Roundhouse. The Forgiveness Project are now processing the feedback and planning further dissemination including showing a DVD of the performance in prisons and schools.

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