King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 2nd September 2019
“a fresh perspective on a difficult issue, whilst still managing to be a witty and engrossing piece of theatre”
A surprising and thought-provoking piece of drama, ‘Stripped’ takes a tantalising premise and turns expectations on their head. What starts as a bouncy two-hander slowly transforms into a nuanced and devastating account of the how two people can view one night so differently.
Ollie (Charles Reston) has agreed to pose nude for artist Lola (Antonia Kinlay). Arriving at her studio, it’s an initially – and expectedly – awkward and amusing situation. After undressing, Ollie takes up various poses to the rhythm of Lola’s egg-timer. Her dead-pan wit battles Ollie’s incessant talking, who delivers imposing judgements and provocations that Lola easily bats aside. “All art is inherently political,” he blurts out at one point. “Cute. I remember my first opinion!” is Lola’s sarcastic response.
So far, so flirtatious. Things take a turn for the sinister as Ollie reveals he knows Lola. Eight years previously, he recalls a night Lola claims, at first, not to remember. Drunken party, ‘Dead Celebrity’ fancy dress theme, stumbling home together and dancing on park benches. After drawing out Ollie’s version of the night, Lola unveils her big reveal. Not only does she remember the night in detail, its haunted her for years. They didn’t just “have sex”, Ollie raped her. And it’s time he makes amends.
Victims confronting their attacker is not entirely new, nor is it a course of action to be recommended. As authors Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger have proved, conversations between victim and perpetrator can be educational and enlightening, revealing new aspects of our understanding of the culture surrounding rape. Hew Rous-Eyre’s ‘Stripped’ is a vital and timely addition to the discussion. Neither victim nor perpetrator is wholly good or bad – they’re just real people in all their complexity. Rous-Eyre’s hour-long piece works alongside such tomes as Mithu Sanyal’s ‘Rape: From Lucretia to #metoo’ as questioning how we understand rape culture. It’s also a thoroughly entertaining and gaspingly funny piece of theatre.
Kinlay and Reston work exceptionally well together, with the former shining as she moves from dead-pan charm to emotionally vulnerable over the course of the encounter. Reston seems a little less comfortable on stage, but offers a brave performance, especially considering he’s nude about 90% of the time. Max Elton has directed the two well to avoid melodrama, but the piece does lag a little after the ‘big reveal’ and Reston’s response to being confronted seems a little unsure. Felipe Miranda’s set design is deceivingly simple and conjures a detailed artist’s studio superbly well. Elle McAlpine is credited as being the production’s ‘intimacy coordinator’, a role I was pleased to see listed.
Overall, ‘Stripped’ is a nuanced, thought-provoking piece of drama that will stimulate discussion long after the final bows. Cunningly avoiding a ‘taking-sides’ approach to stories of sexual assault, it gives a fresh perspective on a difficult issue, whilst still managing to be a witty and engrossing piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Christopher Tribble
King’s Head Theatre until
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