This is a riveting and challenging play in a clever and creative production. That I found it difficult to watch says volumes for the strength of the writer’s commitment to forcing his audience to face up to some painful truths about the way personal relationships can be twisted and wrecked by the way young men and women live today. The first full length play by Sam Freeman, it deals unflinchingly with what feels like a very old issue – the sexual double standard – brought bang up to date.
Scarlet is a student who lives her life to the full, uses social media all the time, and – after experiencing a range of sexual relationships – has settled into a steady relationship with a lover. She is pursued by a young man she doesn’t fancy and, when she rejects him, he posts a phone video of her talking about her sex life on the web. This leads to a series of increasingly appalling consequences and to her isolation from the community in which she has thrived. The play inspires a developing sense of unease in the audience both about what happens to her and how she reacts in trying to overcome it.
The four actors – Lucy Kilpatrick, Jade Ogugua, Heida Reed, and Asha Reid – all play Scarlet at various points in the story. Sometimes they play different aspects of her at the same time, on occasion playing out the dilemmas she is thinking about. They also play the other roles in the drama – the male and female friends caught up in her story.
The performing area is arranged as a square platform with seats on three sides and three smaller platforms jutting out into the audience. The actors move around these four spaces constantly, and the action is choreographed brilliantly.
The admirable director, Joe Hufton, has found a format that tells the story clearly but that reflects the pace and chaos of people’s lives in the age of Facebook and YouTube. And he has cast four excellent young actors who brilliantly convey Scarlet’s painful dilemmas as she faces up to the abuse heaped on her – by the men who despise her and the female friends who don’t always give her the support she needs.
There are weak points. Sometimes the switches as the actors shift into the minor roles are confusing. The portrayal of the men who abuse or fail to support Scarlet is not always convincing. Will, the man she turns down, is a caricature and, although the humiliations he suffers at the hands of his friends are hinted at, the writing turns him into a stereotype rather than a real flawed human being. The penultimate section is melodramatic and the ending a little too optimistic. But these are minor reservations. This is a powerful and provocative play, with four fine performances. It forces us to think about some important and challenging questions and underlines that sexually active women still face appalling prejudices.