“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.
“a winning formula – interesting and original writing, pleasing to the eye, some truly moving moments and a beautifully clever and poignant ending”
Arrows and Traps Theatre offers more historical new writing with ‘Taro’, being performed hand in hand with ‘Gentleman Jack’. Their latest dramaturgic slant explores the radical lives of remarkable women whose stories deserve to be celebrated. ‘Taro’ tells of Gerta Pohorylle who breaks out of her Jewish background and defies gender roles when, in 1934, she moves from Leipzig to Paris to escape German anti-semitism and meets Endre Friedmann, a young Hungarian photographer. They form an exhilarating bond. He teaches her photography, she provides contacts through her job at Alliance Photo. They decide to improve their professional opportunities by obscuring their roots and creating the ambiguous name, Robert Capa (borrowed as it sounded similar to film director, Frank Capra and also Friedmann’s Budapest street nickname was “Cápa” which means “Shark” in Hungarian) under which they both work. Gerta changes her name to Gerda Taro, a combination of the icon Greta Garbo and the Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto, and eventually they travel to Spain to capture the atrocities of the civil war. There she is killed at the age of 26, becoming a pioneer of photojournalism as well as martyr for the socialist cause.
Writer and director, Ross McGregor, reflects their intertwining identities and the influence of cinema in their names as a film being made through the eyes of Taro. Accompanied by her favourite film star, she watches herself, commenting on and explaining her own story. The cast move dexterously round the stage forming and reforming as family, friends and colleagues, changing scenery and costumes but it is this meandering action which blurs rather than clarifies the mesh of people and events. On the few occasions where emotions rise, the tension is cut short by Garbo’s quips and we are unable to fully engage with the characters. Lucy Ioannou gives a sensitive performance as Gerda complementing Cornelia Baumann’s strong, spirited Gerta, in particular, the heartfelt outburst at her disillusion with Endre’s unreliable nature. Tom Hartill plays the volatile Friedmann, charming the audience with his openness and we enjoy a refreshingly grounded portrayal of Gerta’s friend Ruth, by Laurel Marks.
The lighting (Ben Jacobs) nurtures the space and atmosphere and there are other striking stylistic similarities with the company’s earlier production of ‘The White Rose’. With the incorporation of expressive movement, tableaux, background mime and the red coat standing out against the grey costumes… possibly a recurring motif… McGregor is establishing an artistic hallmark. For those less familiar with Capa’s work, to see some of his images (presumably protected by copyright) would have been impacting but there seemed to be an attempt to restructure one of the civil war photos. Maybe more, but if one is unlucky enough to have a side-facing seat, the view of the staging is notably restricted. The members of Arrows and Traps have generated a winning formula – interesting and original writing, pleasing to the eye, some truly moving moments and a beautifully clever and poignant ending.