Posted by Madelaine Smith on 15 November 2011
The other night I jumped on the 31 bus to one of my favourite venues, The Roundhouse in Camden to see 'Unprovoked' by Kathrine Smith. The play tells the harrowing story of the murder of the 15 year old daughter of Mary Foley at the hands of another young woman at a party in 2005. The story leads us through the events surrounding the death of 'Olivia' (Lala Semakula), through the trial of 'Chloe' (Daniella Lamattina), her killer, and chronicles how Foley came to find it in her heart to forgive her daughter's killer.
Featuring an all-female cast of young actors, the tale was simply staged by Directors, Angus Scott-Miller and Emily Momoh with minimal set, using only projected images as a backdrop. This story needs little embellishment as the emotional journey of Mary Foley through shock, grief, anger and finally reconciliation, a journey deftly handled by Lorna Gayle, is moving to say the least. It is especially inspiring to know that Foley has continued to work with The Forgiveness Project to tell her story in prisons and youth groups to prevent more unnecessary deaths of young people at the hands of their peers. The play serves as a realistic portrayal of the growing, but little reported on occurrence of girl-on-girl knife crime and reflects the messiness of urban teenage relationships, the nature of violence and the power of forgiveness.
Mary Foley, was present for the performance, the first time that she had seen the story played out in front of her. She sat dead centre in the front row and after the performance, despite being visibly moved by what she had seen, she took part in a Q & A session with the audience, supported by Marina Cantacuzino from The Forgiveness Project. What struck me was how this quite ordinary woman, caught in a quite extraordinary situation, responded in such a way that makes us all question, how strong we might have been, faced with such monumental trauma. Foley, however, is quite clear on the factors which led to forgiveness. She described becoming aware of changing, putting up barriers and retreating from her family and friends. She eventually found herself in a very dark place, full of bitterness and anger but it was at this point when she began to entertain the word 'forgiveness'. The more she reflected on what this word might really mean, the more she realised that actually, as she says 'forgiveness is not a weakness', but it is in fact, a way of taking charge of our lives and removing the power from those who have hurt us.
Another factor which was key in her path to reconciliation, was correspondence with her daughter's killer and beginning restorative processes. The more she began to find out about this young woman's childhood, one which had been filled with domestic violence and abuse, the more she was able to look beyond the pain and grief, to see the bigger picture and the humanity of her daughter's killer. As Foley says, this doesn't mean that it justifies the violence or that it negates the inherent injustice of this brutal and unprovoked attack on an innocent young woman. Quite the opposite, she sees it as 'an act of freedom' and her continuing educational work as a way of paying tribute to her daughter.
Inevitably, the subject of this summer's riots was raised in the Q & A and we can, I believe, learn much from Foley's experiences. She is adamant that communication and open-heartedness is the way forward. By taking the time to listen to what is going on in the lives of our young people and to genuinely try to understand them, we might begin to instill a sense of self-worth and self-respect. The celebration of their gifts and talents, rather than the 'monstering' of these disaffected young people, might just encourage them to in turn, celebrate their own gifts and talents and those of their peers. After all, as Foley herself speculated, after hearing about some of the troubled lives that these young people lead, could you honestly say you'd be any different in the same environment? It is perhaps easy to be dismissive and indignantly say "Of course I would!" but on the opposite side of the same coin, could you say you'd be able to forgive, like Mary Foley did? I'd like to think I would, but I suspect I'm not that brave.