THIS is a true story. A young woman, a student, moves into a new house. The landlord — an elderly man — begins controlling his new tenant, enforcing rules for her to abide, and disallowing her any privacy. When she disobeys, the man becomes enraged and upset. This destructive situation escalates to the point where he begins raping the woman on a daily basis.
The woman who lived this truth shared her memories with CRAFT, a theatre company who devised a play out of her traumatic experience. A Question of Consent presents this unpleasant subject matter without any disguise. The audience witness rape scenes, abuse (physical and verbal), violence, and the scars of such horrendous cruelties. Impossible to derive any enjoyment or pleasure from watching such work, this piece of disturbing theatre tests spectator’s tolerance for pain, and elicits both emotional and physical responses in the audience, which are not easy to achieve on stage.
This impact has been created through two means. Firstly CRAFT’s Artistic Director Rocky Rodriguez Jr. devised a specific performance practice to express the toll this struggle has on the body and mind of its victim. He trained the actors, including Australian Kurt Murray, over a number of months in physical exhaustion and identity deconstruction techniques. Once they had been pushed to their limits, Rodriguez would use this state of being as the platform with which the actors created the work.
Using such a technique to tell this woman’s story is an example of suffering for your art. From the moment the audience enter the space, the performers, in various recovering positions on the bare floor are exhausted, weak. Heavy breathing and dripping sweat, tears and dirt covered clothes; not contrived, but a real and authentic physicality. It is an intense opening tableau, and because the performers never appear to regain their full strength, this tension is prevalent throughout the entire performance. Iulia Benze who plays the woman, captures the physical and emotional suffering of this character through this exhaustion. Her tired, dark and wet eyes, which are there at the start, remain for the entirety of the 70-minute show.
The second reason this play makes such an impact on the audience is because it incorporates structured improvisation. Each scene has been devised to move the story along, but the delivery and interaction between the characters to convey the scene is created in the moment. This makes the whole thing seem more real. The threat and danger Lucas John Mahoney, who plays the elderly man inflicts on his victim is enhanced because it is delivered with such authenticity, and hasn’t been over rehearsed or scripted. However there were a few moments where it seemed like the actors were becoming complacent with creating dialogue on the spot, and were resorting to swearing for emphasis. It is easy to become disengaged at these moments, as the message behind the scene seems to be forgotten.
A Question of Consent is extreme in its content and its execution. The commitment of the cast to tell this story of suffering through their own is admirable, and makes for a highly provocative performance, which is hard to watch, and to feel at times.
Image credit : (C) CRAFT
CRAFT presents A Question of Consent at The Rag Factory from January 2014. Click here for performance dates and to purchase tickets.