Of all the men accused during the #MeToo movement, Aziz Ansari saddened me the most. I had been a fan of his work, especially the freshness and diversity of his TV series Master of None, which candidly portrayed the millennial experience. A particularly incisive and insightful episode depicts a woman walking home alone at night and the threats she encounters, unperceived by the male population.
As a comedian and TV-maker, his ‘wokeness’ was a crucial part of his brand, which made it all more disappointing when accusation of sexual misconduct against him emerged. I had thought he was one of the good ones – but so, apparently did he, claiming that from his perspective, all sexual activity that took place was ‘by all indications completely consensual’.
The question that arises, therefore, is one of intent. Did Ansari wilfully ignore the woman in question’s verbal and non-verbal signals? Was he aware either at the time or afterwards that he may have been assaulting her? If he wasn’t aware of it, can he or should he still be culpable?
Greyscale, a new immersive piece of theatre from Anonymous is a Woman sets out to posit these questions but not answer them. Inspired by but not based on the Ansari story, the piece invites the audience to question their preconceptions regarding consent, poke around in the grey area between a firm ‘no’ and an enthusiastic ‘yes’.
Though such terms as ‘site-specific theatre’ and ‘choose your own adventure’ may elicit a raised eyebrow, I can honestly say that this is most ingenious means of staging I have encountered in a long time. Far from being gimmicky, this piece cleverly uses its real life setting to brilliant effect.
Formally novel and cuttingly realistic, Greyscale’s audience is limited to ten people, which makes for an extremely intimate but never invasive experience. The ten of us are gathered together and it is explained that we are about to experience a date between Jamie/Jaz (Imran Momen/Tom Campion) and Lucy/Lou (Niamh McGowan/Edie Newman), told from each of their perspectives. The cast members and the order in which you meet the characters varies depending on the performance you see. We had Momen and McGowan, and met Momen’s Jamie first.
Jamie is the arty type, into photography, likes wine and has a membership to the BFI. He finds vulnerability sexy and loves meeting girls who don’t realise how pretty they are. McGowan’s Lucy is intelligent and strong willed, doesn’t suffer fools gladly and hates social media for its falseness. He doesn’t perceive himself as a predator, nor she as a victim. Nevertheless, she finds herself feeling violated and sobbing at 4am in the hours following their encounter. Like Aziz, Jamie thinks of himself as one of the good ones.
How can exactly the same events be perceived so differently? Can we reliably read other peoples’ non-verbal cues? Is it still an assault if he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong?
I can only applaud Leila Sykes and Stella Taylor of Anonymous is a Woman for conceiving of such an effective means of telling this story. Combined with chillingly authentic writing from Joel Samuels and Madeline Gould, and sharp direction from Roann McCloskey, the excellence of this piece is in how it immerses you in a thoroughly realistic story then gently guides you to re-examine your own views, experiences and even past sexual encounters.
For me, this is the very definition of ground-breaking, experiential theatre and it will stay with me for a while. Greyscale is a real asset to the VAULT Festival, and I would urge anyone to go and experience it.
Greyscale is playing until 17 March. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.