THIS was hardly a light-hearted outing, but what do you expect if you buy a ticket to a play about a paedophile?

Stephen Brown’s sparse, provocative drama is a further reminder of how lucky York is to have this intimate studio space.

A play staged here pulls the audience to the heart of the drama. Which in this case made for an uncomfortable proximity, although not because of anything shown – Brown is too clever a writer for that – but due to the intensity of the dialogue, and the abuse that lies behind what happens.

A successful, slightly self-absorbed barrister seems to have it all: a career on the rise, a beautiful girlfriend, a life taking shape. But hidden and illicit desire rises to the surface to destroy him, after he accidentally sends out to all his contacts a disgusting email featuring a young girl being abused.

The play follows him to prison where the extent of his crimes gradually emerges through the narrative layers. In essence, this is a drama of relationships, from the criminally abusive, through the destroyed – with the girlfriend, the brother, the wider family – to the new friendships warily struck with other sex abusers in prison.

The performances are uniformly strong, from Coronation Street refugee Rupert Hill as barrister Peter, through Robyn Isaac as girlfriend Jenny – who passes from girlish enthusiasm to furious bewilderment – to York actor Katherine Dow Blyton, impressively brisk yet vulnerable as the prison shrink.

Tom Golding plays the brother, suffering the damage second-hand, nervously showing his shamed sibling snaps of his baby daughter. Tom Newman makes fellow prisoner Harry believable and human – if not someone you would want too close – while David Benson turns unrepentant paedophile Tim into a figure of creepy authenticity.

A tough, challenging drama – sharply written, intelligent and unsparing.