Carolyn Lloyd-Davies’ socially provocative play Penetration, running at The Cockpit Theatre from 22 September to 9 October 2021, explores the confusion which surrounds society’s failure to understand the concept of consent. Directed by David Trevaskis, the world premiere is inspired by seven true stories of accusations and acquittals from 2014 to 2019.
In the light of recent shocking events, the play is of particular significance, as it follows the stories of Anna and Sean with insight and sensitivity. Anna’s manipulative and coercive boyfriend James adds an additional overtone to the play, as does the perspective of Felicity, Sean’s mother.
This multi-layered play aims to jolt the audience into exploring parameters of consent, focusing on the impact of toxic coercive relationships, the power of social media and the need for healthy sexual boundaries.
In conversation with My Theatre Mates, Carolyn Lloyd-Davis explains how the idea behind the play first came about: “The son of a friend of mine was suddenly accused of rape and all my pre-conceived opinions on allegations of rape were radically challenged. Any form of rape is an extremely serious offence and I knew that when cases are referred to the CPS by the police, they’re carefully reviewed by experienced, specialist lawyers.
“I also knew that when I heard of someone being accused of rape, my automatic, if fleeting, thought was: ‘He’s obviously guilty – women don’t lie about rape’. And of course in the vast majority of cases, we don’t maliciously lie about such an appalling crime.”
What Carolyn didn’t know was that it would take almost three years for the case to come to court and for her friend’s son to be acquitted. “I also didn’t realise that as soon as the allegation is made and becomes public, the accused loses everything – even before they’re charged: their job or university place, their income, their anonymity, their reputation (how do you tell someone you fancy you’re an alleged rapist?).
“Society’s attitude is that the accused is guilty until proven innocent. And I’m not proud of the fact that I held the same belief, which prompted me to research further into six other cases of accusation and acquittal to try to understand what’s happening here. If a jury found him innocent of any crime, but she’s not lying, what’s going on in between?
“This conundrum was too intriguing for me to let go. I wanted to understand, for as CS Lewis wrote, ‘We do not write in order to be understood. We write in order to understand’.”
Carolyn then set out to shape two truthful narratives of the same event from both the complainant and defendant’s viewpoints, asking: “who is the victim here? Is there a blurring around the edges when alcohol and drugs are involved for both of them to the same extent? Do neither of them have capacity?”
The play deliberately takes no specific moral or legal standpoint but explores the unfolding of events which drastically changed everyone’s life.
Slowly, over the months, Penetration started to take shape and a rehearsed reading in front of 80 students was followed by a heated post-show debate. Carolyn continues: “I hoped that is what the play would spark. I want the audience to be jolted out of their ‘comfort zone’. I want it to force questioning and debate. We avoid conversations like this for fear we’ll be branded as an apologist for rape, or we’re siding with predatory males, or making victims out of women.”
In fact since writing the play Carolyn has already been ‘cancelled’ by two separate people: “They viewed the play through a female victim lens, ignoring the full picture. They didn’t want any further discussion and one held the view that it was about time innocent men suffered just as women have through the ages. A sort of ‘tit for tat’ justice.
“I’ve been warned of likely aggression and ‘trolling’ against me personally for writing this play, but I stand by every word.”Calum Wragg-Smith and Georgina Armfield will star as Sean and Anna in the play alongside Louise Bangay, Steve Chusak, Amantha Edmead, Rebecca Hunt and Mike Anfield. The drama will be staged in the round, meaning that audiences will be confronted with intimate and intricate reciprocal implications of consent and the devastating consequences of blurring sexual boundaries.
Audiences are jolted into confronting dangers that could be just around the corner, unfortunately so recognisable in real life, from horrific news stories to social media and ‘hook up’ culture. By presenting every angle of these shocking true stories, Penetration asks audiences to examine their own judgement, as much as the characters’
Carolyn urges audiences to hold off judging the piece by anything they read or hear about Penetration beforehand and to come along to the Cockpit and see it for themselves.
“Non-judgemental but challenging, the play explores the implications of consent, focusing on the impact of toxic coercive relationships, the power of social media and how we set our sexual boundaries.
“You can also take part in the discussion as we’ve two post show Q&A sessions with the director, cast and playwright: one after the matinee on Saturday 2 October, the other after the evening performance on Thursday 7 October. I’ll be there – let me know what you think! ”
Running at one hour and 30 minutes plus interval, Penetration by Carolyn Lloyd-Davies runs at The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, Marylebone, London NW8 8EH from Wednesday 22 September to Saturday 9 October 2021 (Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Matinee performances on Thursday 23 September and Saturday 2 October at 2.30pm).
Tickets are available priced £16 (£14) and age guidance is 16-plus (sexual content, swearing and reference to rape). The production is presented by Living the Drama.