Tuesday, May 3, 2016

'Might Never Happen' at the King's Head Theatre, 2nd May 2016

It must be a pretty shitty feeling to have strangers reduce you to a pair of tits. But that's the dull reality that women face: a cacophony of men's voices emerging from building sites, on public transport, out of cars and yelled over pubs. It's tempting to conclude that these transitory acts of rudeness are small fry compared to 'big' social issues, and anyway, just how do you stop it? 

Doll's Eye Theatre's Might Never Happen makes the case for immediate action on street harassment: attempting to communicate a variety of arguments around the issue, show us everyday examples and begin to figure out a framework through which we can begin to sort this shit out.

Comprising eleven sketches, the show ranges in tone from light-hearted parody to bonechillingly upsetting realism, stopping along the way for a couple of mono/duologues. The creative team explain that they understand that each instance of harassment is unique, whether it be the actual method used by the perpetrator or the reaction from the victim. To this end they're eager to cram in as many different perspectives as possible. As you'd expect, we hear from people who've suffered street abuse of various stripes, but we also hear from women who consider it a compliment and from men struggling to see how they can realistically assist.

This is all grounded in research by Dr Fiona Vera-Gray and Dr Maria Garner, and I can understand the desire to present as many viewpoints as possible. The sketch format achieves that, though unfortunately results in an uneven experience.

To put it bluntly; when it's good it's very very good, when it's bad it's pretty damn bad. The nadir comes in an early scene where a couple argue over a relatively minor incident of harassment. The dialogue is corny and acting is flat - you sense that the writers are more concerned with hitting talking points than constructing a plausible conversation. It comes so early on that the heart sinks slightly, anticipating a rather painful evening.

Then things take a turn for the better. Set on the top deck of a London bus, we find a wheedlingly annoying arsehole (Ashley Sean Cook) harassing a random woman he happens to sit next to (Vicki Welles). It's so raw it's difficult to watch - I look away to see other audience members averting their gaze too, with one person apparently in floods of tears. It's a perfect, concise demonstration of how something that's often written off as idiotic rudeness (or even misconstrued compliments) can genuinely traumatise.

The rest of the sketches lie somewhere between these two, quality-wise; a scene contrasting a man's and woman's experience in a nightclub is well conceived, performed and effective in demonstrating the hazards of consent, yet eventually sputters out; a parody of Loose Women provides the lion's share of the laughs but goes on a bit; and a duologue between a woman scared of assault and an assault survivor is hamstrung by one side being far more interesting than the other.

It's never good reviewing practice to imagine the show you wanted to see, but I suspect the topic might be better served by a traditional linear narrative that incorporated a smaller but more focussed selection of the source material. When Might Never Happen hits, as in the bus scene, it hits hard. If it could sustain the mood of that scene over the course of an hour it wouldn't be an easy watch but it'd leave an indelible mark in the memory.

Having said all that, I can't deny that the show achieved its aim of educating me about street harassment, which the show treats as a key element of a wider spectrum of misogyny. I consider myself a pretty right-on sort of guy - I'd certainly never dream of yelling stuff at a stranger. Despite that, I admit that when I'm out with a group of friends and someone makes a comment about a woman that makes me wince, I tend to keep my mouth shut for fear of looking like a politically correct killjoy. But the show taught me something important - silence is complicity. 

Despite it being a somewhat disjointed theatrical experience, Might Never Happen provides much food for thought. So, a success, albeit a qualified one.


Might Never Happen is at the King's Head until 16 May. Tickets here.

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