Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault
To many, Alice (Stephanie Silver) is the kind of girl who is “practically asking for it”. Wrapped in a braggadocio swagger, she poses provocatively as she spits out clichés previously confined to the world of porn (“I tell the bouncer, ‘I’ll suck you dry if you let me in’”). Abrasive and grating, she’s the antithesis to smooth-talking Liam (Sam Lando), a ‘numbers guy’ who’s taking a break from caring for his mum with cancer (no, really) to have a night-out with his friends. Alice and Liam have hooked up, and both are now reflecting on the encounter as she journeys home: he thinks he was manly and authoritative (“I take control over her”), and she shares how she was raped.
Written by Silver and Amelia Lovsey, Walk of Shame follows in a long dramatic tradition of plays that explore the nuance of consent. Originally a stage production before being adapted for theSpaceUK’s second online theatre festival, the play offers great potential through a fantastic core concept: alternating monologues providing different ‘perspectives’ of a sexual encounter. However, instead, the end result is just irritating. From the wailing music, to the lacklustre pacing, to the gormless way it approaches the charged issue of rape, the whole thing is simply irritating.
Indeed, far and away the most irritating aspect of Walk of Shame is how it treats assault only as a plot device; something to shock the audience. Until it comes time to ‘reveal’ the rape, Alice is peppy, effusive and proud; when the moment does come, she abruptly shifts gears, becoming a broken mess…why would this happen if it’s all taking place the following morning? It’s genuinely as if Walk of Shame wants to lull the audience into a false sense of understanding, before ‘surprising’ them with sexual assault. At best, this inconsistent characterisation is a muddled delivery of a key element; at worst, it’s an offensive bait-and-switch.
Perhaps this inconsistency stems from how the characters are devoid of any nuance – they pontificate like caricatures. Liam especially, as his introduction is so obviously a red-herring (“I always pay for a girl on the first date – chivalrous and that; make them feel safe”) that his eventual assault of Alice isn’t shocking or meaningful, it’s cheap (“nice guys can be rapists too?!”). And whilst this could be the intended message of Walk of Shame – that sexual assault isn’t always telegraphed, anyone can be a rapist etc. – its undone by how trite it’s delivery is. This production doesn’t add to the wider conversation about consent, but rather reduces it to the guileless “sometimes people get raped”.
This is probably what’s most irritating about Walk of Shame: not that it’s saying anything wrong per se (far from it), but rather that the way it goes about it feels detrimental to the wider conversation. Instead of having fully realised characters thoughtfully delve into nuances and distinctions, it trades in caricatures and twist endings. Perhaps the format is to blame – a brief 20 mins doesn’t seem long enough to engage with this issue – but the production’s botched handling doesn’t help either.
Walk of Shame is playing as part of theSpaceUK’s Season 2 – 50 new shows from around the world, completely free to watch. For more information, see theSpaceUK’s website.
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