Bush Theatre, London – until 21 October 2017
Rape culture is real. Victims are blamed, perpetrators are excused and conviction rates are low. Of reported rapes – estimated to be less than 20% – only 3% are deemed to be false accusations.
So a story of a woman who lied about sexual assault as a child isn’t helpful in combating the endemic misogyny that underpins rape culture. Not only is it unhelpful, it’s a deeply problematic narrative in a world where the prospect of false accusations is used as a weapon against women’s rights. Though a comparatively insignificant part of this coming-of-age love story, it leaves a nasty aftertaste that overwhelms the play’s positive elements.
It begins innocently enough – fifteen-year-old Ramona meets Jim on a school trip to the Scottish coast. Bullied by her classmates and desperate to be cool, she finds a kindred spirit in Jim, a shy lad obsessed with crustaceans. Fast forward 15 years and Ramona is an unhappy estate agent in London, guilt plaguing her about what she did to Jim. Jim is still in the same town, in a reluctant relationship with a much younger woman.
Most of the story is the two kids falling in lust under the stars. Their heightened, formulaic characters are sweet, and their awkwardness is often funny. Wu nails the comedy between the two misfit teens and director Mel Hillyard uses the small studio space effectively. Though there isn’t much innovation in this narrative, Wu carries it off well.
The performances are good, with Ruby Bentall smashing it as Ramona. She convinces both as a child and an adult, channeling the unadulterated awkwardness of a teenager into occasional adult eruptions of weirdness.
Wu has created the foundations of some lovely characters that have the potential to comment on social inequality, class and urban v. rural lifestyles, but she only hints at these. Instead she forces a sexual assault into an otherwise trite but sweet tale of young love. It’s a concerning example of unconscious bias that reinforces patriarchal attitudes rather than challenges them.
Ramona Tells Jim runs through 21 October.
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