Fresh Berries by Catherine Johnson

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The Wire on BBC Radio 3

BBC Radio 3, 9 February 2013
Occasionally there are plays broadcast across the airwaves whose subject-matter inspires in listeners a combination of rage and compassion in equal quantities.
Fresh Berries is a good example of this.  Catherine Johnson's play deals with the ways in which young girls are forced into various forms of sexual indignity by predatory older men, in exchange for (illusory) promises of eternal love.  Natalie (Madeline Duggan), a vulnerable fifteen-year-old, has spent much of her school life as an ugly duckling; spurned by boys her own age and teased by her contemporaries, she conceives her love-affair with Justin (Carl Prekopp), as a means to confirm her identity; now she can truly describe herself as a young woman.  Justin plies her with gifts and insincere protestations of love; in exchange, he forces her to prostitute herself, as well as pose indecently for the camera.  Natalie's friend Georgia (Lizzy Watts) also encounters Justin, and finds herself ensnared in the same vicious circle.
There is something frighteningly inevitable about this play, as Natalie eventually discovers Justin's true nature and finds herself cast aside.  Nor can she expect much sympathy from her family; her mother has absconded, while her grandmother (Tilly Vosburgh) cannot really understand how she feels, both physically and emotionally.  In the end Natalie is left to fend for herself, a victim of a viciously uncaring world.
What makes Fresh Berries such a powerful piece of work is the way in which writer Johnson and director Marian Nancarrow approach the material.  While sympathizing with Natalie's plight, they do not include over-emotional scenes for dramatic effect.  Rather their purpose is to illuminate the issue of child exploitation, in a drama-documentary fashion (recalling Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home from the mid-1960s), in the hope that listeners will be inspired to act.  The two leading performers, Duggan and Watts, cope admirably with difficult roles, while Prekopp, as the exploitative Justin, makes us realize just how powerful young men can be, especially when dealing with vulnerable young girls.  Definitely a piece to remember.