Preview: Public House

Reclaiming Public Spaces with the Annual Old Vag Club Cambridge Rape Crisis Performance Fundraiser


Each year the Cambridge alternative feminist theatre company – The Old Vag Club – takes to the stage to speak out against the institutional silence regarding the unending prevalence of sexual violence and the male dominated discourse surrounding it, with 50% of proceeds donated to Cambridge Rape Crisis. And, in true Cambridge spirit – the best way to fill the silence is, of course, with performance!

The Public House project is built around a series of sexual assault and harassment testimonies from Cambridge and ARU students and alumni, which work in synthesis with interactive art-based workshops and an open mic forum to provide a cathartic and meaningful space seeking to reclaim public discourse around incidents of sexual assault and harassment and the public spaces in which they so often occur. These testimonies were carefully gathered by Thea Melton and Cecilia Wallace, with the support of The Old Vag club, to act as the bones of a uniquely powerful evening.

Rehearsals in full swing! Image Credit: Thea Melton

It is the power of reclaiming stories and conversations around sexual assault which seemed to draw both the cast and crew to the project. And with a real sense of community seeming to rise from the challenges of handling such stories with the respect and integrity they so deserve, it seems that the company of Public House are more than ready to extend this sense of community out to their audience and beyond.

The night is set to centre around ideas of “belief” – what does it mean to be believed? How do we believe someone? And why, in conversations such as these, is the notion of belief so central to discourse?

Perhaps the answers lie in a failing justice system on an institutional and national level. And with only one in a hundred rapes reported to the police resulting in a criminal charge out of the five million women in England and Wales who have been sexually assaulted since the age of sixteen, the statistics seem to tell their own story. The refusal to believe the testimonies of survivors and victims leads to a self-imposed silence from minority groups in particular, muzzled by the potential for disbelief and a profound distrust that authority will offer any meaningful assistance.

It is this silence which the performances of Amaka Udeagbaja, Anna Willmoth and Eirlys Lovell-Jones will shatter with resounding force.

Image Credit: Thea Melton

Despite the profoundly healing and hopeful values and aims which surround this performance, it’s important to note that it naturally deals with themes and issues which can be difficult to confront. As the aim of the evening is to end public silences and remove the stigma around open conversations on rape, sexual violence and assault – perhaps the only way to do this is to face such conversations head on.

However, while Public House doesn’t shy away from the nuance, welfare is of utmost importance. From those supplying their testimonies, to cast, crew and audience, keeping the conversation as productive and restorative as possible has been and continues to be of paramount importance. Writers can retract their testimony at any point, the team have been working with welfare team and resources throughout, and there will be trained welfare representatives present at the Portland Arms to facilitate any concerns or issues throughout the evening.

Image Credit: Thea Melton

So, join the Old Vag Club and the cast and crew of Public House for what promises to be a provocative yet uniquely cathartic show of solidarity against sexual assault and violence on an institutional and national level – to give power to those who have been doubted, and a voice to those who have been silenced.

Public House is showing at 19:30 on Tue 3rd May 2022 at The Portland Arms. Get your tickets here!

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Feature Image Credit: Amy Bottomley

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