Grey Matter

Adrian Raine’s pioneering work in neurocriminology can be seen as a reaction to the supremacy of nurture over nature in the debate about the causes of criminal behaviour. His research findings caused a storm in the nineties and remain controversial not so much for their science as for the implications of it for social policy. If an examination of the brain could show that a person is likely to become a threat to society, would it then make sense to lock said person away before can act on their supposed natural tendencies? Could being born with what is deemed to be a dysfunctional brain effectively become a crime for which the offender is judged to be guilty until proven otherwise?

This production goes for breadth of examples rather than depth of motivation and the examination of minds.

In Grey Matter Jack has failed his 18+ and is assessed as 82% likely to commit murder. For this reason he has been incarcerated in a secure neuro-treatment facility in the wilds of Norfolk. His only hope is Daniel, a neuro-rights activist who visits and befriends him, ultimately gaining full-time admission to the institution as a research journalist.

At ninety minutes this multi-media play takes far too long to pose its questions. Its construction is untidy with an excess of momentary scenes that provide further examples of similar points. Screens are moved, projections come up, screens create locations, and at times screens even block the performers from view. The action goes through a gamut of incidents designed to show the disturbed nature of the inmates/residents and the pervasive air of bullying and violence. Woven into these are issues of treatment methodology, the value of tests, the role of sedation and the competing merits of soft or hard regimes in institutions, to name a few. The acting stretches from weak to strong and overall is somewhere in the middle. The outstanding feature of the writing is the use of the ‘f’ word more than 150 times. Yes, I kept a tally after the first five occurrences in almost as many seconds. It’s time scriptwriters realised that the word has lost its impact from overuse and now indicates a limited vocabulary and lack of creative imagery.

Grey Matter is clearly the product of some considerable research. The projected images of brain scans and the language of neurology incorporated in the script attest to this. The line about omega-3 gets a laugh but it would interesting to find out how many of the audience realised that it’s not an original idea from the scriptwriter but part of Raine’s research. The play might well be more intelligent than it seems, but its academic base is sufficiently obscure as to make it largely inaccessible.

Raine’s research provides plenty of scope for dramatic exploration, but this production goes for breadth of examples rather than depth of motivation and the examination of minds. 

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Jack has failed his 18+. Assessed 82% likely to commit murder, he has been incarcerated in a secure neurotreatment facility. His only hope is Daniel, neurorights activist with no concept of left. But, as Daniel enters Jack's dangerous world, can he even save himself? Developed from a scenario proposed by psychologist Adrian Raine, Grey Matter presents a dystopian near-future in which profound questions arise as violence erupts between the nation’s most volatile young men: is risk-taking inherently human? is free will an illusion? Tense drama with black comedy from Spasm: ***** ( and **** (ThreeWeeks)