Scarlet**** (Southwark Playhouse)

Posted: April 18, 2015 in Theatre

scarlettThis Review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” says Scarlet, quoting a half remembered adage as she tries to explain to herself how she has arrived at a point of desperation. Scarlet has been the victim of sexual abuse – an intimate video has been shot whilst she was drunk and posted on the internet without her permission. Her life has been changed irrevocably, possibly ruined. Scarlet, the first full-length play by Samuel H Freeman, is a sharply-focussed and provocative examination of the causes and consequences of sexual abuse. Written in the style of a monologue, the play is in fact performed by four actors – Lucy Kilpatrick, Jade Ogugua, Heidi Reed and Asha Reid – all playing Scarlet and all playing other characters in the story. The four bring subtly different traits to the main role, particularly effective when they are arguing different sides in debates going on in Scarlet’s head. The perpetrator of the abuse is Will, a misfit who is laughed at by his friends over an incident involving Scarlet and driven to seek revenge on her. By telling us that Will is a victim of bullying, Freeman is not trying to excuse the inexcusable, rather he is showing us that abuse exists in different forms, consisting of many degrees of physical or mental violence and that one case of abuse can escalate and lead to another. Scarlet is not the victim of a date rape as such, but Freeman is able to make the case that the sexual abuse inflicted upon her is no less extreme for being less physical and he challenges what might be ingrained prejudices. When another woman, Scarlet’s friend Sasha, implies that what happened was her own fault for dressing alluringly, drinking too much and being promiscuous, the playwright is showing that prejudice is not specific to one gender and he is asking each member of the audience to question their own views. At the same time, Freeman also shows that attitudes toward female victims can be very different from those towards men. When Scarlet seeks revenge on her ex-boyfriend after their relationship has broken down in the wake of her misfortune, she posts sexually explicit photographs of him on the internet. Her life had been wrecked, but he shrugs it off, perhaps wallowing in his reinforced macho image. Joe Hufton’s lively and energetic production is staged on a central square platform, with extensions into the audience. For all the seriousness of the issues with which it deals, the play never resembles a dry tome and, blessed with four uniformly excellent performances, it moves effortlessly between humour and suspense. It also sends the audience home discussing the issues that it raises, which must be central to its purpose.

Performance date: 17 April 2015

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