In this technological world, The Panopticon looms above us all as an invisible observer ensuring we will police ourselves. This image, represented by the imposing crescent walls of Max John’s set, serves both as the literal setting and as a grounding metaphor for National Theatre of Scotland’s staging of Jenni Fagan’s novel. Far from being concerned with abstractions or literary allusions, Debbie Hannan’s adaptation cuts through to an altogether more personal and powerful story; one which captures the tempestuousness of early teenage years against the backdrop of a care system that lets down those that most need protection .
We follow 15 year old Anais Hendricks, a young girl who has spent her entire life in and out of the care system, as she is brought to a secure facility, The Panopticon. Accused of assaulting a police officer, she faces the latest in a series of let downs, mistreatments and misjudgements the likes of which she has known throughout her life. The nightmarish video design (Lewis den Hertog) projected onto the set gives the audience a deeper look into the subconscious of our protagonist. Endearingly played by Anna Russell-Martin, Anais soon meets and befriends fellow residents with similarly disturbing stories. Their hopes of leaving the failing system behind and a desire to create better lives unites them in the face if heart wrenching tragedy and serves as a support for Anais’ story.
The play provides an engaging contrast between the optimistic elation of youth and the dark malevolence of the world and it’s an inevitable intrusion into the lives of young people. Featuring a cast of characters denied the chance to reach their potential by a system meant to care for them, the chaos and mysteries of the real world are reflected. There may never be answers, but through our own efforts we can carry on and create a better world by creating a better self, regardless of our circumstances.