Trafalgar Studios, Londons – until 31 August 2019
Is saying ‘actually’, the same as saying ‘no’? This is a question posed very early on in Anna Ziegler’s play about two students whose drunken date night ends up in a rape accusation.
It is the first term at a prestigious university. A time for making new friends, enjoying the freedom of being away from home, finding out who you are and where you fit in. Amber (Yasmin Paige) is Jewish, at turns shy, awkward, talkative and forward. Tom (Simon Manyonda) is black, good looking and confident, occasionally to the point of being ‘dickish’, something he acknowledges.
When we first meet them they are on the fateful night out. It appears from the nature of the conversation that they are in the early stages of getting to know each other. The narrative jumps back and forth piecing together the events leading up to the alleged rape and the college hearing that results from the accusation.
Over the course of 90 minutes, we get a combination of discourse between the two, reported conversations and monologues which serve to show how past experiences have shaped their views, dreams, desires and character.
In peeling back the layers of each, Ziegler challenges your prejudices and exposes the complexity of human psyche, our relationship with ourselves and others. You will in turns empathise and dislike both Amber and Tom and you will ask yourself why at every step along the way.
As the opening question about the word ‘actually’ hints this isn’t an open and shut case and neither is the play. Don’t expect a firm conclusion, Ziegler’s narrative doesn’t lean one way or another. Like the game of two truths and a lie, which Amber and Tom play on their date, it is part deduction, part interpretation and part guesswork.
Throw in the prejudices and bias of those who sit in judgement and you expose the flaws of a justice system built on absolutes when it isn’t as simple as that.
Actually is a complex and dense play that explores more than consent, it raises questions about attitudes towards sex and relationships, race, religion, upbringing and family.
Occasionally it gets bogged down in so much detail but for the most part, it is a tense and gripping piece and will certainly give you plenty to think about.
I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. It’s at the Trafalgar Studios 2 until 31 August and is 90 minutes long without and interval.
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