Review: GRIP, Reading Fringe Festival (*Trigger Warning*)

Trigger Warning: This review involves content that deals with sexual assault

GRIP centres around Trev (Scott Howland, who is also the playwright) and is narrated by Gaz Hayden. Hayden’s character sets out each scene meaning set changes aren’t necessary. The other actors vary between synchronised ensemble and/or voices in Trev’s head to other characters in the story. This is all visually innovative.

Unfortunately, the play’s visual perks are undermined by other aspects of the piece. The split scene in the bar is an effective way to have two scenes co-exist. However, the writing when Trev gets drunk is poor and futile: he starts mansplaining the history of the white male oppressor, but adding, “[white men] can’t help it”. Other than his drunkenness explaining his lack of clarity, it’s really not clear what either Trev or Howland’s message is here. I’m unsure if there’s some ironic undertone that we’re supposed to be picking up on or if Trev is supposed to be exempt from being a white man despite being white and a man.

In the same scene when Louise (Emily Brown) gets drunk, the directing becomes lazy. Her body language becomes hypersexual and flirtatious, she lounges suggestively. Her Betty Boop-like physicalisation feels unnecessary and entirely incongruous to the topic she is speaking about: paedophilia. The fact that she is then sexually assaulted feels distasteful and, again, I feel unsure what the message is.

Unlike Trev’s speech, Louise’s thoughts on paedophilia and mental illness pose an interesting conversation; however, it remains at surface level and is not explored further nor does it seem to have any relevance to the piece as a whole; it feels like Howland just wrote it to be controversial. Like Trev, she fluctuates between being subversive and being offensive meaning we don’t take on board what she’s saying as we don’t fully trust her viewpoint. 

A lot of the topics of the piece are interesting but are executed in a confusing, half-hearted and sometimes ignorant way. The play sets out to explore masculinity within grief however this gets somewhat forgotten. The scene where Trev’s father tries to encourage his son to grieve feels cliché and empty. Instead, it feels the piece mainly centres around Trev being accused of sexual assault and how it affects him. I feel Trev’s grief is partially used as a tool to try to garner sympathy in light of the allegations, which doesn’t sit comfortably with me. His grief and the allegations are later on conflated with the decline in his mental health but, again, to have explored this throughout the play would have been much better. 

At the end, Trev’s father rants about how quick the criminal justice system is to arrest rapists stating, “nowadays with rape, you’re essentially guilty until proven innocent” which is completely, infuriatingly inaccurate. (I could elaborate on this for hours but I’ll just put in a quick stat that last year only 1.7% of reported rapes in England resulted in prosecution). I tried to give the benefit of the doubt to Howland for writing this – I thought another character would counter it but no one did. To platform an untrue statement like this at the end of a play without also arguing against it is beyond controversial, particularly in the current climate. It feels really insensitive.

I’m all for subversion and platforming marginalised perspectives, but not when the perspective is that rapists are treated unfairly. Seeing something from a male’s perspective isn’t subversive, it’s life. Platforming how the criminal justice system is harsh on the mentally vulnerable is important to flag but not by conflating it with sexual assault. 

GRIP is streaming on the Reading Fringe Festival website until the 31st August, 2020. For more information and tickets, see the Reading Fringe Festival website.