In dealing with subject matter that is almost unbearable, the ancient form of Greek Tragedy with its terrible inevitability and its observing, commenting Chorus, is just the ticket. Only, Niklas Rådström isn't dealing with myth or fiction. The murder of two year old James Bulger by two truanting ten year old boys in 1993 happened. We are constantly reminded, "it has happened before, it will happen again".
Mothers Against Murder and Aggression have nothing to worry about. In fact, they should be out leafleting encouraging folks to come see this play. It not only deals with the terrible facts but horribly difficult questions. Is it worse to have your child murdered or for your child to be a murderer? The audience is as complicit in the action, as the 38 pairs of eyes that the investigation revealed spotted Jon and Robert leading baby James away from his mother and towards his death were. They bore witness but they didn't intervene. The question reverberating through this performance is, would you?
The production is as stripped bare as its poster, Arcola's raw space decked out with TV cameras, those blind eyes witnessing it all over again, with a simple space delineated for an interrogation room, harsh strip lighting flickering on and off with the buzz of the media signalling scene changes. Four impressive, compassionate actors take all roles indiscriminately, giving voice to parents, policemen, the children and slipping effortlessly into chorus mode, giving respite from the reenactment but dwelling relentlessly on dead children whether via a monotonous litany of child murderers through the ages or one man's monologue on miscarriage and untimely death.
From the outset Rådström's text questions the audience, "I don't know what you expect from a performance about two children who kill a third". At times, listening to soliloquoys from Jon and Robert's parents, hearing the interrogation of the boys reenacted, their childishness so apparent, and, finally, hearing James' mother speak - naming her lost infant - heartbreakingly, full of rage, we wonder too.
Monsters is at Arcola until 30 May. £16/10. Buy tickets online or call 020 7503 1646. Tuesdays 'pay what you can' subject to availability.