Sex crimes committed by two boys from his school moved Evan Placey to
write a very Jewish play.
Madeleine Potter struggles with Tom Golding as Jennifer
Thompson looks on in Mother of Him
What does it take for a mother to stop loving her son? Or what does it
take for a mother to hate him? These, in essence, are the questions at
the heart of 26-year-old Evan Placey's new play, Mother of Him, which is
running at the Courtyard Theatre in north London.
They occurred to Placey after he heard about the terrifying events that
took place in the early morning of September 7 2007 when two female
students were raped on the campus of York University in Placey's home
town of Toronto. It was on that night that two Jewish men in their
twenties, Daniel Katnelson and his friend Justin Connort, roamed the
corridors of the university's halls of residence. They were looking for
unlocked doors to rooms occupied by lone female students. Their first
victim was a 17-year-old girl. Katnelson raped her and then took
pictures with his mobile phone of Connort sexually assaulting her.
The men then continued to roam the halls until they found their second
victim. She was 18 and a virgin. "Do you want to get lucky with a couple
of Jewish guys?", Katnelson asked one of the victims. The story broke
just after Placey had returned to London after visiting Toronto for his
"There was a big thing in the Toronto media warning everyone to be
vigilant," he recalls. "And then the boys came forward and it turned out
that one of them - Connort - was a family friend of mine when we were
kids. I'd seen his ma at my sister's wedding. And Katnelson went to the
same primary school as me, although he was a year older."
Later, as Placey wrote his
fictional play based on these real events, another story hit the
had gone missing. The abducted toddler's
became the most famous woman in the country and Placey noticed that the
reaction of the media in both Canada and the UK placed the morality of
the mothers at the centre of the story.
"Connort was put under
house arrest before he was sentenced. And I thought: 'What in God's name
is his mum saying while trapped with her son in this house?'"
Katnelson and Connort were in their mid-20s when they committed their
crimes (last April, Katnelson was sentenced to eight years in prison and
Connort to three), but the rapist in Placey's play is a 17-year-old
called Matthew, played by Tom Golding.
"That made it more interesting in a legal sense," says Placey. "It meant
that Matthew could be sentenced as a child because he was not quite 18.
But the play is not so much about the degree to which Matthew is
responsible, but how responsible he is from the point of view of the
mother. Does she believe he was responsible? And if not, is she
therefore also guilty for standing by her son? It's about the mother's
The play is neatly framed by Chanucah. The mother Brenda (played by
American actor Madeleine Potter) is a single parent who attempts to
retain some semblance of Jewish life in a household besieged by
reporters. While the journalists wait for mother and son to show their
faces, inside the house Brenda and her boys light Chanucah candles.
"I think her Jewishness, however secular, is what she clings - or is
forced to cling on to, as everything else falls apart around her,"
explains Placey. "The setting up and lighting of the Chanucah candles is
the only normal thing left, and the only thing she knows which doesn't
change. I was particularly interested in Chanucah as a time for
celebration, for family - something which Brenda becomes isolated from
and wants to be far away from at times."
Placey also sees a parallel between the festival lights and the lights
of the TV cameras encamped outside the house. As each day of Chanucah
passes, the pressure from outside the house becomes more intense. Brenda
cannot buy a bottle of milk without journalists' questions being fired
at her. The radio and TV is full of chat-show talk about the crime. Is
Brenda the underlying reason behind the rape? Did it happen because
she's a single parent and Matthew has no male mentor? A consensus seems
to be forming - that a mother's place is in the wrong. Even a Jewish
While Placey was writing the play, the hysteria surrounding
and the theory that she was in some way responsible for the
disappearance of her daughter, was reaching its height.
"What was happening to Kate
McCann definitely affected the play," says Placey, a graduate form north
London's Central School of Speech and Drama. "I think there are
pressures we put on mothers that fathers don't have to face. And as a
young writer, I haven't seen many strong roles for women. I was
interested in writing about a mother being challenged."
Placey lives in Brockley, south London, and grew up in what he calls a
liberal, secular Jewish family in Toronto. His mother is a retired
special-needs teacher, his father, an accountant. When he was younger
Placey used to volunteer to help out in his mother's classes. The
experience gave him early insights into what it is to be an adult
responsible for difficult children.
If on one level Mother of Him, is mostly the result of real events
connected to Placey's life, the play also serves to challenge some of
the attitudes towards Katnelson and Connort which he heard voiced by
Toronto's Jewish community - attitudes which may well have been mirrored
by the Jewish community here. "There was some things I kept hearing a
lot," he says. "One of them was: 'But he was such a nice Jewish boy.' It
was this idea that some men are rapists, but Jewish boys, from good
Jewish families, are not."
'Mother of Him' is at the Courtyard Theatre until July 4. Tel: 0844 477