After seeing Mother of Him,a play that humanises a rapist through its focus on their mother, Blue Huseyin felt outraged. Here, she writes about how serious crimes such as this are still being treated as fodder and how the victims’ voices are continuing to be lost.
Under the orange glare of a streetlight on a dingy street in North London, I am crouching next to my girlfriend’s idling motorbike. I am trying to calm my fractured breathing by focusing on each new raindrop that lands and slithers down the visor of my helmet. But whatever momentary peace I achieve quickly dissolves back into volcanic rage. We have pulled over only five minutes into our commute home. We had to. I was ranting so passionately I nearly sent us swerving into oncoming traffic.
“The rain is getting heavier and we have to get home soon,” she urges, casting her eyes upwards with concern. “We can talk about it then.” I know that she is right; that it’s cold, and late, and that the fat raindrops are hitting my back with the audible tapping of impatient fingers. But all I keep saying is, “it’s fucking OUTRAGEOUS. OUTRAGEOUS.”
This outrage referred to a play I had reviewed that very evening: Evan Placey’s Mother of Him at the Park Theatre. The show saw the character, Brenda Kapowitz attempt to choose between supporting or shunning her son – the rapist. What followed was a two-hour exploration into Brenda’s capacity to hold her family together during a media frenzy. We learned about her marriage, saw an inevitable public meltdown, met a girlfriend who blamed herself for wanting to wait to have sex, and ultimately the rapist was humanised.
“But Blue!” I hear you cry, presumably in my Twitter DM’s, “You just misunderstood. It’s a play about Brenda and the moral conflict between her obligations as a mother and her social consciousness as a woman!” and to that I say: I couldn’t care less. This play, in its attempt to find a fresh new perspective to discuss such a harrowing subject, totally prioritised the narrative of a criminal over its victims. The victims – three young women, Abi, Rachael and Jessica – were named once. They were never seen or heard. They remained abstract, silent and oppressed. When a mass shooting is committed, the police now urge the media not to release the shooter’s name or give them the infamy that they crave. Why then must I watch a guilty rapist celebrate Hanukkah with his family whilst his victims are forgotten? A story about a developed female lead should never have to come at the cost of three others. It is self defeating and utterly bleak.
I fear that shows such as this are one of the by-products of living in an age rife with misguided ‘woke’ art. Theatre has always been a political medium. It stands unflinchingly in front of a fractured world and presents its audiences with the truth. But the right to explore controversial topics does not supersede the real climate of suffering that women still exist in and playwrights must accordingly tread respectfully and act as an example. Everyday women in creative industries fight for representation, equal pay, and to overthrow the tokenism with which we are often presented as our only access into creative spaces. More broadly speaking, topics such as rape, domestic abuse and ingrained institutional sexism that so disproportionately affect women more than men, are only just reaching mainstream discussion through international phenomena such as MeToo. Yet, Christine Blasey Ford’s poignant testimony against Brett Kavanagh did not even fractionally alter his employment prospects. We are not yet at a point where ‘edgy new interpretations’ of such topics feel mindful or necessary. (Dare I even reference David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat?)
Art should lead national conversations, empowering and supporting victims. Any divergence from mind-set at this early stage can only be read as a wilful reluctance to place focus on the oppressed. It is a big issue that cannot be shoe horned into an article of this size. But I will say this: watching that play hurt. And when I spoke at work about it and my male colleagues didn’t understand my issue, I was hurt. And standing in the rain trying to still my trembling hands I was so very hurt. Because somehow this story about a tormented woman was still contorted into a defeat. We must do better. Theatre must do better. To help, uplift, and represent the real women whose traumas are fodder for these plays. Currently, simply not enough is being done.
The morning after watching Mother of Him, I saw an advertisement for The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new edgy production of The Taming of The Shrew; the infamous “comedy” about an opinionated woman whose spirits are eventually broken until she is subservient to her husband. Rather than just consign this antiquated play with no place in progressive society to the past, and produce a well-developed feminist piece of theatre, this production ever so edgily announced that it had an all female cast instead. Because you know…gender roles and all that. Reader, I could have wept.