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Vault Festival Review: Project Lolita

6th February 2014
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In 2020, post-Operation Yewtree, a zero tolerance approach has been taken against those who seek to abuse children. This is the basis for Project Lolita, which exists in a Black Mirror-esque world, where everything is manipulation and no one is being entirely truthful. It is in this context that a relationship develops via homework chat and Skype between Katie, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, and Joe, a 28-year-old former secondary school English teacher (note the ‘former’.)  

Project Lolita is very much a play that taps into the current media (and by extension societal) obsession with paedophilia and the moral questions surrounding it. Writer and director Sophie Foster freely admits that she was writing in light of Jimmy Saville revelations, and whilst teacher Jeremy Forrest was on the run in France with his 15-year-old lover and former pupil.

Initial reactions have often questioned why Foster would take on the subject of predatory relationships, and why an audience would want to watch a play that might seek to justify them – but, like in any narrative that has more than a superficial or reactionary message, of course there are multiple levels to Project Lolita. It would be a huge error to approach it with anything other than a completely open mind.

Here is the trailer:

Character-wise, Katie is precocious and it’s clear from the outset that she isn’t entirely innocent - but it soon becomes obvious that this sexual awareness is not going to manifest itself in the way that we first expect.  Project Lolita doesn’t let up in its twists; we can never predict the way that the script is going to go or how the characters’ relationships will conclude, and thus the production always feels fresh.

This is despite the fact that some of the analogies used (Romeo and Juliet, Eve’s forbidden fruit) are a bit obvious - but this doesn’t matter too much, and in the end they serve their purpose clearly enough.

Both lead actors (Charlotte Blake as Katie and Moj Taylor as Joe) display exceptional skill and vulnerability, adding to the confusion of what is actually going on, what has happened to them in the past, and what they actually know but are failing to voice.

Much like the Angry Baird’s other current play, Pole Factor (read our review here) the set is kept to a minimum, with a split stage that features only Katie and Joe’s respective bedrooms. It is only towards the end that we leave this setting, and that the two beds are the most prominent features throughout the establishment of Katie and Joes’ forbidden relationship adds to our general sense of foreboding.

At its heart Project Lolita is a worrying comment on how the press, and in the very near future the police, latch onto characters whom they see as easy targets and fully succeed in vilifying them.

Certain scenes highlight the manipulation that society is forcing upon its citizens explicitly, and one particular moment involving Katie overstepping the mark when it comes to her and Joes’ relationship is very uncomfortable. This scene helps the play establish its central question, and the one that we are left to ponder: who are the real predators in their society – which, as this is a satire and a warning, is so much like ours?

So, as has been asked numerous times - is Project Lolita a retelling of Nabokov’s novel, transported to 2020 and made less black and white through the advent of social media deception? No, is the answer: although there are shared themes, Project Lolita is a play that can stand up on its own – and to fully realise its message we should consider it solely in the context of our own society, rather than any other.

Project Lolita, written and directed by Sophie Foster, is being performed by the Angry Bairds theatre company as part of Vault Festival, Waterloo, from 4th – 8th February. Find out more about the Angry Bairds on their website, or buy tickets here.




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