Another night, another exceptional show put on at Hope Mill by Take Back Theatre

As with Monday night’s response to the Election Results this is not one for review, partly for the same reasons and partly because each performance will be different. My Version of Events is billed as a multi-disciplinary response to the nature of consent. It includes an exhibition of thoughtfully selected work by eight artists in a variety of media, all relating in one way or another to the central themes of Rebekah Harrison‘s script.

This is a measured, sensitive and scrupulously researched account of two pairs of friends and what happens after their paths cross on a night out. Two women, two men, all in their early twenties. 

Quite early on there is an accusation of rape. 

The play follows both the procedural and legal consequences as well as its effects (upon those who were present at the time of the alleged crime and those who were not) up to and far beyond the conclusion of legal proceedings. Because there is never a point at which a rape is ‘over’.

The cast of four will change nightly. Even the director won’t be a constant: on Friday 16th Esther Dix will be directing, while the other shows are in the hands of the brilliant Noreen Kershaw. Tonight the cast comprised Nadia Emam (also in Ten Takes on The Result the previous night), Rosie Fleeshman, Sam Holland and Miles Higson. The last was new to me – it turns out this was his professional stage debut. It certainly didn’t show. All four gave strong and engrossing performances, really doing justice to the high quality of the writing. 

The actors lined up for the remaining shows are of an equally high standard and they’ll all be reading from scripts on the night. It won’t be the first time they’ve seen the script but it’s an effective way of maintaining freshness and immediacy. Too much rehearsal would change this into something else. As it is the sense of each character saying these words for the first time makes for a close (at times raw) connection with the audience.

Only the actors know whether or not their character is lying at any point, and that’s a decision each actor must make. A performance choice. The writing allows for the possibility that every character is telling the truth at all times. Like the actors, like a jury, each member of the audience must come to a conclusion about what really happened. Or remain ‘undecided’.

It’s stating the obvious to say that people survive rape in the way that murder victims do not. Rationalism reassures us that men and women who are unlawfully killed do not, by definition, have to live with the ongoing daily trauma of remembering the crime committed against them. For those who survive rape, it’s different. Moments and sensory fragments replay endlessly, during sleep and in waking hours alike so that the pain is never quite left behind. The personality can change; the self can feel destroyed. Friends and loved ones can see the effects but never share the reality behind those effects- a fact that torments as much as it consoles, on both sides. There are countless ways of proving guilt where murder is concerned, and almost none at all for the rape of an adult. All of the visual and forensic evidence in the world is never enough: consent cannot be proven. It boils down to the word of one person against the word of another, both of whom may go in and out of a state of denial for the rest of their lives.

Some of this is reflected in the post-show discussion which, obviously, will also be different each night. Tonight a representative of Trafford Rape Crisis joined the writer, director and cast to discuss the play and responses to it with the audience. Many questions and points were raised and valuable insights given. What came across very strongly is that although fair legislation is important, nothing will change without education and the will to educate. Pornography threatens to normalise rape because it tends to remove the very concept of consent from its ‘narratives’. The adults for whom it’s intended might be able to add their own context (though this is by no means a given) but people of all ages have access to all kinds of porn now. In many cases it’s their only ‘education’ about sexual matters. How to make the discussion, the notion of consent as freely and widely available as pornography? In schools, even where it is available, sex education tends to be about the mechanics of reproduction, plus contraception and disease prevention. Consent and broader responsibility are a coda at best. It’s a discussion that’s barely happening among people of any age. 

All of which is about working towards preventing incidents of rape. The wider issues such as where the balance of power lies in society, how that can be shifted, and how we respond as people to rape; these are all up for discussion too. You have to go along any night this week and make your own discussion, just as you’ll look at the exhibition, see a specific, one-off play and respond to it on your own terms.

This fluidity and up-to-the-minute ability to create and respond is all a part of what makes Take Back Theatre one of Britain’s most vital and consistently exciting companies. You might not want to hear about rape or think about rape but one way or another your life is very, very likely to be affected by it. Even if it’s only through seeing this valuable and deeply impressive show. But don’t take my word for it or anybody else’s. This is on every night until (and including) Saturday. Go and find out for yourself.

Rape Crisis UK

Survivors UK

Hope Mill Theatre

Artworks by: Claire Angel, Hazel Gibson, Lucie Greenwood, Laura Harrison, Jo Knight, Ingrid Leurs, Rachael Munro-Fawcett, Christodoulos Neophytou