Reviewed – 12th August 2019
“tackles its theme with skilful insight and a refreshing amount of nuance”
In an age of uncertainty, the only thing we can be sure of is ourselves. Maybe it’s youthful arrogance, but college freshmen Tom and Amber seem very sure of themselves. His passion is music; her path is writing. He knows that she likes him; she is mildly obsessed with him. She’s sure that he raped her; he’s sure that he didn’t.
Actually is a story that is rich with ideas that are explored efficiently and empathetically. Anna Ziegler uses her ninety minutes wisely, examining her themes and protagonists with equal focus. Ziegler gives us a rich sense of who her characters are, providing details and anecdotes that prevent them from becoming archetypes of perpetrator and victim. Amber Cohen is Jewish, a college professor’s daughter and naïve idealist who battles to keep her rampant insecurity at bay. Tom Anthony was the only African-American student at his high school. He is somewhat cocky and something of a ladies’ man, but is nonetheless a loner who is uncomfortable in his own skin.
It is through these two contrasting yet strangely connected characters that Ziegler seeks to complicate the issue of sexual assault. Is Amber reporting this because she feels genuinely violated, or because her friends told her to? Is she really questioning her privilege, or devaluing her feelings? Can Tom’s personal struggles be considered a valid explanation for his behaviour? But, then again, what did he actually do? Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda ensure that we can sympathise with Amber and Tom even at their worst moments. Both portray a sense of vulnerability that makes the audience realise how out of their depth they truly are. Both are highly engaging and excel in high stakes moments, but sometimes struggle to nail Ziegler’s sly injections of humour.
As a production, it is sleek and simple. Appropriately, the stage is a grey area; the back wall is cracked open slightly, reemphasising the invasive nature of the hearing they have to face. A clever piece of design right at the last second ends the show on a satisfying note, adding poignancy to an already emotionally wrought piece.
Actually tackles its theme with skilful insight and a refreshing amount of nuance. Its resolution – or, rather, its lack of resolution – makes the show feel complete: not as a piece of storytelling, but as a realistic depiction of sexual assault cases, their complexities, and the ongoing struggle to understand the experiences, not only of others, but of ourselves.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
Trafalgar Studios until 31st August
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: