Discussions around rape culture have been building steadily over the last few years, with attitudes slowly changing. Rape culture is talked about actively and openly by groups such as Cuntry Living and Everyday Sexism, yet still not enough of this discussion has filtered down into the theatrical world. Enter In Plain Sight with their devised new work, Nightingales, as a necessary addition to the table. Thankfully, this isn’t just a rehash of the shows that have come before it.
On the one end of the spectrum, there’s the verbatim Nirbhaya. Its real-life stories are deeply upsetting yet, as moving as this piece that brought full rows of audience to tears is, it’s perhaps not as easily relatable to the western world as Nightingales. Of course, most audiences choosing to watch a piece about rape are likely to have a good socio-political awareness already, and won’t need spoon-feeding to make them think. However, if we’re trying to reach a wider demographic and to use art to change attitudes to rape, in a way that it seems In Plain Sight are, then it needs to be as accessible as possible. And that’s where this piece has succeeded. It’s managed to infuse a challenging topic with humour and pop culture references to create a work that’s as engaging and relevant as it is entertaining.
Interwoven with a modern day story of a drunken rape is a historic tale from Greek mythology, of the rape of Philomela by her sister’s husband, Tereus. The slick blend of these two crimes is handled with ease by actress and director, Isabel Sharman, and hits home with the grim reality that rape culture has been around for far too long. It’s been under our noses for centuries: it’s been used to wage war, threatened to women old and young for speaking out against the patriarchy, and still excuses for it are plastered all over society, as this piece is intent on us realising.
Nightingales is bookended by truths that are deliberately uncomfortable. From a shocking Fox News clip that provokes feelings of anger, and would be almost laughable if the subject matter wasn’t so serious, to a harrowing ending listing real cases of women who have taken their own lives as a result of their rapes. It’s a sad reality. The inclusion of further facts and quotes by prominent public figures, such as Serena Williams, defending the perpetrators of rape crimes don’t let us forget that.
It’s a shame though that such a well-constructed production has left out discussions of male rape. Whilst this doesn’t diminish their message about female rape, it suggests that perhaps the company, who perform with such confidence and strength, aren’t comfortable enough representing the other sex.
As heavy as the subject matter is though, the majority of this hour long piece is easy-going. It’s been interspersed with well-known songs performed by a Greek Chorus (Laura Hurin, Jessica Preston and Jess Price), whose constant bickering over the microphone brings light-hearted relief and further blends this melting pot of classic and contemporary influences and stories.
Nightingales played at New Wimbledon Studio. For more information, see the In Plain Sight website.