Content warning: sexual harassment and violence.
“We felt safe here,” says Lauren, one of the girls whose story is retold in The Group Chat, in the play’s opening scene. “Well, we thought we did.”
The 2018 Warwick University group chat scandal, which saw eleven male students temporarily suspended after making rape threats to female students in their group chat, is surely one of the most shocking university-related news stories of the last five years. Declan Kelly’s harrowing dramatization of the events, rather than dressing them up in poetic language, expresses the victims’ thoughts and feelings in a realistic and down-to-earth way, helping audiences to empathise with the victims and understand the need for better protection of women on campuses.
Told from the girls’ perspective, The Group Chat charts the shift in their emotions over the course of the debacle, from their dizzy excitement before starting university, and during Freshers’ Week, to disgust and hurt once they find out about the messages and the boys’ all-too-soft punishment is given out. The anger and frustration felt by the girls is palpable, with some of them appearing close to tears at several points.
Although all the cast are excellent in their roles, Shauna McSwiney deserves particular credit for her portrayal of Lauren. In the scene before the chat is first discussed, she is on a video call with her boyfriend Oscar (played by Tom Gibson), completely unaware of what his friends have been saying about her and her friends over the past couple of years. The sudden shift in her disposition – from blissful innocence to shock and betrayal – really shows the impact that the messages had on the girls.
In another scene, Lauren has just finished talking to the university’s press officer (played by George Marlin) about what has happened; the conversation has been less than helpful and Lauren admits that she’s feeling defeated about it all. “I felt attacked almost; I thought the university would help, but I just wish I’d have never said anything,” she tells one of her friends. “I should’ve just kept quiet if I’m honest.” Moments like this powerfully illustrate the girls’ despair at both the situation and the university’s response to it.
Perhaps the hardest-hitting scene, however, comes once news of the case has got out to the public. After the boys were punished, hundreds of girls took to Twitter to share messages of defiance against rape and sexual harassment. This display of solidarity, which the victims describe in the play as “out of this world”, is recreated at the end of the play and drives home its theme of female empowerment, the perfect resolution for an already superb performance.
The fact that Veritas Theatre Arts could pull off such an impactful production under the current circumstances (The Group Chat was originally written for the stage, but had to be performed virtually due to COVID-19) speaks to both their abilities, determination and Kelly’s outstanding writing talent.
Watch it and be challenged.
Words by Nat Schaefer.
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.