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Rape is always a tricky subject to tackle, to put it mildly – particularly with comedy. The treatment of the subject must be done with the utmost sensitivity and clarity to ensure that the audience feels safe and able to laugh at the right moments, for the right reasons. This is why it is particularly brave of Jessica Burgess to write and perform the outlandishly-titled Fucking Outside the Box, taking to the stage this week as part of VAULT Festival in Waterloo.

We are welcomed into the bedroom of Frankie, a 17-year-old girl from Essex, as she sings along unselfconsciously to her music. She is a beguiling host, delivering her lines with deadpan innocence that is the cause of much humour. She is also a massive Essex cliché: dressed in gold hoop earrings, a tight leopard-skin top, black leggings and pink Nike high-tops, one doesn’t expect much subtlety from this character. There are moments, particularly towards the end, when she develops some complexity, but these are few and far between. For the most part, her character is one-dimensional and glib, her actions entirely inscrutable. This is somewhat of a problem as the play is said to explore “how hyper-sexualisation affects young people’s relationships, sex lives and self-esteem”. Frankie is an almost too familiar victim of this, and whilst we see much of the effect in her classically pathetic character, we see little of the cause. Little of how exactly – and in what many complex ways – programmes like Sex and the City, and magazines like Cosmopolitan, affect young people. This results in a rather trite and retrograde argument for sexual conservatism.

Burgess does come into her own in her depictions of other characters, providing much-needed texture and variation. Often overdone in one-person shows, her shifts between characters are smooth and seamless, and her depictions understated but convincing, particularly in scenes between Frankie and her mother. The echoes in the lives and temperaments of these two women is a running theme throughout the piece, and where it comes closest to genuine poignancy. This too, however, is no stranger to over-simplification, and ends up in a rather predictable and disappointing parallel.

At various points it is extremely difficult to see what exactly what Fucking Outside the Box is trying to say. One trusts that it is certainly not a glorification and trivialisation of rape, although the necessary irony for this is extremely well-hidden. The more likely interpretation is of course that it is attempting to condemn something, although exactly what is difficult to define. It feels at times extremely moralistic, roundly discouraging sexual experimentalism and liberalism in general, lest rape fantasies result in the real thing. Frankie’s simplistic character gives off the rather worrying impression of having brought it all on herself, which is not exactly a point of view to be championed. Leaving something to interpretation can be an effective technique, but in this case parts of the piece are simply frustrating and confusing.

Fucking Outside the Box is an impressive feat of writing and storytelling from Burgess, well-directed by Sophie Moniram, with excellent timing, strong characters and effective design elements. However, this is overshadowed by what seems to me to be serious ideological issues. It took courage to make and perform, and this certainly makes an impact. It is just unfortunate that this impact is perhaps not always the one intended.

Fucking Outside the Box is playing at VAULT Festival until 22 February. For more information and tickets, see the VAULT Festival website.