Jane Doe goes to a party and gets raped. She could be anyone, anywhere at anytime. This is an interactive show which uses verbatim court scripts and text messages, in addition to audience participation and recordings from media outlets, to tell a story about rape culture.
What becomes particularly powerful in the piece is the anonymity of Jane Doe. The fact she is merely a representative of that person, or those people, who will all know, who have been a victim of sexual assault. The number of cases is extreme and as we watch video interviews from different women telling us their stories, we come to realise that sexual assault happens everywhere, and women are unfortunately unable to avoid it in nearly every aspect of their lives.
Karen McCraken, our performer, invites us in warmly. She looks slightly distressed with teary, tired eyes, as if something awful has happened that she needs to sit us down and tell us about. She makes sure we’re OK, and lets us know that we can leave and return if we need to. The show more than anything is about keeping everybody safe.
During the court trial sections of the play, a selected few from the audience are asked to volunteer to come and read from the court script as the witness, defendant and prosecutor. It doesn’t quite have the intensity of a television court drama, but what it has instead is something a whole lot deeper; the words are verbatim, they are saturated with truth. It is at times painful to listen too.
We’re given the opportunity to anonymously submit a message to a poll which appears on the screen to tell the rest of the audience how we’re feeling and what’s on our mind. Some write comments about their anger and frustration. One person comments that men get raped too. Another replies that, whilst true, the numbers don’t match up. There’s talk of male privilege, of men who want to be able to help but don’t know how.
In video sections, McCraken mouths the words of responses from women who are projected behind her; she hears them via a set of headphones and speaks in time with them. She imitates their facial expressions and hand gestures with accurate detail. This technique captures the sense of unison that the show conveys throughout.
The show ends with links to websites and sexual assault charities appearing on the screen. Jane Doe is much more than what McCraken herself describes as a show. It isn’t just a drama; it is a piece of political activism, which we all can hope will help to spread the message and slowly change the social manifesto of rape culture.