Tuesday, 13 August 2019
THEATRE REVIEW: Actually - Trafalgar Studios, London.
Consent is a black and white issue. Either the other party says yes or no, there is no “maybe,” no grey area, but the play 'Atually' attempted to make it so.
From the first moment the characters mentioned the school, Carpenter, my ears perked up. As an American, I know Carpenter well. Almost as well as I know how often black men are falsely accused of raping white women in academic settings (just read any of Christopher Warren's research on the oversexualization of black boys in schools). So, to hear a white woman tell this story was troubling to say the least.
As artists, we have a responsibility. No matter what Scarlett Johansson says, we are not allowed to play any person or tell their story. What we must do is be compassionate and understanding. From the moment we learn that Thomas Anthony (played by Simon Manyonda) initiates sex with Amber Cohen (played by Yasmin Paige) while drunk and without verbal consent, we the audience lose all compassion and understanding for him.
Throughout the play, playwright Anna Ziegler makes feeble attempts to justify his actions. She makes him narrate that he’s always had an issue with consent, ever since he believed that his piano teacher was attracted to him, so he reacted to that reaction by kissing her. He’s also had issues expressing his emotions, because his father left him and his mother. So, when his mother tells him that she has cancer, and his best friend attempts to kiss him for the second time, his logical reaction is to rape his current romantic interest. Not only does this play come across as melodramatic, it’s also several black stereotypes lumped into one person. The whole story was reminiscent of the original King Kong - a sad black beast dangling a delicate white damsel in his hands.
Watching the play, I wondered how the story would have differed had it been written by a black man. Perhaps Amber wouldn’t have been so charmingly racist and lovable. Perhaps Thomas wouldn’t have immediately told us that he wasn’t a likeable guy. And perhaps the black guy wouldn’t have once again played the villain. Perhaps a black man would have had the opportunity to tell his own story. But alas, all a black man was able to do was regurgitate the words of a white woman.
With all this being said, I do not believe that Ziegler is a bad writer, just an irresponsible one. The actors were not bad either. In fact, despite the material that they were given, they did a phenomenal job. The set and lighting designers also made diamonds out of rocks. Both the set design and lighting design told cohesive and interesting stories, I only wish that the main story had been stronger. I only wish that I watched a black man tell his story, instead of a white woman.
Reviewer - Rebecca Marie
on - 12/8/19