Did You Say No Though?

BETH GREAVES is impressed by this powerful exploration of a disturbing topic.

beth greaves did you say no though lauren steele

Corpus Playroom, 30th October- 3rd November, 9.30pm, £6/£5

Dir. Lauren Steele

It would be easy to dismiss Did You Say No Though? as a public service announcement: “Rape is wrong.” After all, all the profits go to the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, and the audience is given a terrifying fact sheet with the programme (sample: in today’s Britain, a woman is raped every ten minutes; 95% of rapes are unreported and, of those that are, over 50% aren’t taken any further.)

This would be wrong, because there’s nothing easy about Did You Say No Though? It may be written to draw attention towards underreported rape and sexual harassment, but the topic is carried with empathy and delicacy. The five monologues deliberately cover a broad range – Philli (Marika McKennell), whose boyfriend is arrested for statutory rape; Sephi (Katherine Sopher), date-raped at a house party; Calli (Jenny Scudamore), struggling with the truth about her parentage; Mead (James Evans) attacked on a night out, and Lucy (Sophia Stanley), married to an abusive man.

This could seem like a litany of Awful Things That Could Happen To You, but Steele carries it off with remarkable grace. The characters are often onstage in pairs, and their monologues overlap, picking out similarities and differences in their stories. Steele’s message is clear, but never preachy. The theme of rape is universal here, but no experience is the same. This is most striking in the juxtaposition between Philli, furious about her boyfriend’s demonization, and Lucy, crushed by her husband’s physical and emotional abuse.

The writing only falters when Steele departs from the realistically simple monologues. The experimentalism, where the characters chant to rapidly-flashing light or speak in devolving fragments, are unoriginal and strain too far for artistic significance. However, more broadly, the monologues are devastating. Emotional and heartrending, Steele gives enough detail to paint the horror of each situation, but it’s never gratuitous. Her script has a rare thing: a ‘message’ that it doesn’t overdo or overstate.

Throughout the show, its best asset is the group of phenomenal performances. It’s impossible to pick a standout from this line-up. All are evocative and utterly believable, and occasionally moved this stony-hearted reviewer close to tears.

The only scenery is a series of triangular cut-outs of tabloid articles on ‘sluts’ and much-publicised affairs. Arguably a little heavy-handed, but it works well with the amount of emotions that Steele induces, which are always fully rooted in the reality of her characters. The scene changes are clunky, but the musical cues are sufficiently disorientating to fit the mood. Ultimately, though, Did You Say No Though? is all about the words, and they are extremely powerful.