What makes good theatre? Is it supposed to make us feel happy, feel good about ourselves, or is it meant to challenge us, make us feel uncomfortable? Is it meant to lull us into suspending our disbelief, or should it shock us our of our everyday complacency? Answers on an electronic postcard to me...
I first virtually met Sabina England on authonomy, a writer's web site (or online game, depending on how you look at it), over a year ago. She was a brash newbie in that community and shocked many of the writers there by using the c word as a term of affection. An interesting addition, you might say.
Sabina has been entirely deaf since the age of 14. She's a Muslim, a punk, a woman, a novelist and a playwright. She's now 26, and has probably lived more lives in those years than I have in my almost 50.
I went to see Sabina's play How The Rapist Was Born earlier this week. It's on at the Tristan Bates Theatre at 1A Tower Street, London, WC1 (near Covent Garden) until 17th October 2009 until 17th October (but not on Sundays).
Having read some of Sabina's ten-minute plays on her blog, and having read chunks of her novel, I knew she could write, but what I saw in London exceeded even my expectations.
How The Rapist Was Born is an outstanding play which challenges men and women to look at how they deal with provocative sexuality. Performed entirely by women, it's a blinding storm of words and lights and music, an uncomfortable piece of theatre which would not be out of place in Bertolt Brecht's portfolio. At 1 hour 10 minutes, it's not particularly long, but even that time flies by. It's a prose poem, a whirling dervish of a piece. Language, memory, pain.
I liked the repetition of the opening lines throughout – it created act changes, which I thought was really effective. Brecht is one of my favourite playwrights, and the impact of having the "manga" girls hanging around the theatre before the beginning of the play (and of having Charley, the main lead, pass the rapist's cock to the audience and shaking the hand of the audience during the play) made me think of his alienation effect – drawing the audience into the play at the same time as making them understand it was a play.
The sexually provocative schoolgirl outfits create a conflict for men watching the play, because making the girls “attractive” immediately created guilt/self-examination in male watchers – let’s face it, men always check out girls, consciously or subconsciously, and one of the central themes of the play, as I saw it, was digging down into the rapists’ self-justification (“she deserved it because of the way she was dressed” – ie denying women the right of self-expression and choice).
What really interested me was the choice of music, bearing in mind that Sabina can’t hear music. The soundtrack which accompanied the words and pauses fitted perfectly.
And, of course, the play adhered to Aristotelian principles. The claustrophobia of the hospital room in which the action takes place was emphasised by the increasingly agitated behaviour of Charley and her gang.
The ending of the play was totally unexpected for me, but I'm not about to give it away here.
If any of you reading have time to go and see it, do. It's on a double bill with another play, so you get 2 hours of theatre for twelve quid. Can't say fairer than that, guv.