“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.
“throwaway lines elevate an ambitious script, and wittily display Corley’s talents as a playwright”
How much has really changed in twenty years? This extraordinary new play by James Corley takes audiences on a nineties nostalgia trip to remember. As his first full length play, ‘World’s End’ is nothing short of breath-taking, introducing a wonderful foursome of characters all trying to figure out their place in the world of late-nineties London.
Single mum Viv (Patricia Potter) has moved with 19-year old son Ben (Tom Milligan) from Norfolk to Chelsea to start a new life in London. At the World’s End estate, they move in next to the Kosovar Albanian family, Ylli (Nikolaos Brahimllari) and his son Besnik (Mirlind Bega). As Viv finds a new job (and a new man), and Ylli gets more and more involved with the Kosovo War, their respective sons bond over Nintendo video games, and fall in love. It’s only when Viv decides to move in with her new boyfriend that things spiral out of control, as Ben settles into his independence and falls victim to a terrible act of violence.
It all seems so familiar. Foreign nations fighting for autonomy, insurgent armies, refugees escaping conflict, and targeted attacks on minorities. Against this backdrop, Corley reminds us of a time not so long ago where you couldn’t make a call if the internet was on and neighbourhood communities meant something more than just muffled sounds coming through the wall. His hopeful script is tender, funny, and beautiful. Playing ‘Legend of Zelda’, Besnik asks if Link can have sex in Hyrule town. “We can fish?” is Ben’s awkward, terse response. Thinking about moving, Viv looks around her soon-to-be old flat: “Bit like going to the hairdressers, isn’t it; always looks best before it’s cut”. These throwaway lines elevate an ambitious script, and wittily display Corley’s talents as a playwright. My only gripe is Ylli and his slightly muddled patriotic pride. An intriguing character, his story never quite gets the attention it is probably needs to be convincing.
As a Zelda fan, I loved the references to ‘Ocarina of Time’, and Harry Linden Johnson’s sound subtly introduces Zelda themes to underscore the main love story. The cast, directed by Harry Mackrill, give convincing performances. Patricia Potter is an utter delight, effortlessly embodying the stresses of single motherhood and blending it with Chelsea charm. Tom Milligan, playing an awkward and stuttering Ben, gives a grounded performance that keeps you rooting for the main lovers. Mackrill does well with a small space, and his actors seem cool and confident throughout.
I usually never think plays should be as long as they often are. ‘World’s End’ however is one of the few exceptions where it ended too soon. Such interesting characters deserve a bit more space and time to develop, especially with the more political subplots, and although the ending is hopeful, it feels like too little too soon. I would love to see this transfer, as many plays from the King’s Head Theatre do, and for the team to use that as an opportunity to expand the scope of Corley’s script. In its current form though, this is still a real treat of a production, and one not to be missed. Powerful, courageous, and full of wisdom, Princess Zelda would be proud.