‘Violated’ Is A Searing Exploration of Broken Consent

Image credit: Rebecca Holbourn

Content warning: Discusses themes of sexual assault and harassment. Advice and support can be found here.

Violated is an understandably intense 45-minutes of theatre. At the close of the performance, the entire audience sits in stunned silence, unable to leave as we try and take in the weight of the various experiences shared throughout the course of the play. It’s not a play for the faint of heart, and one that will hit very close to home, as the examples of sexual harassment and assault in the play will be incredibly recognisable for many, especially women: which is of course by design as the monologues are based on real-life experiences.

Violated has a simple but clever set-up: a man and a woman (never named presumably in order to reflect the universality of the stories) share their experiences of broken consent in their lives in two separate but intertwining monologues. The staging of the play, which is directed by writer Rebecca Holbourn cleverly reflects this conceit. The two are physically separated by a line on the floor and their monologues initially start quite distinct, but through the duration of the play, the pairs’ monologues start to become more of a reaction to each other and they move physically closer to the line that separates them, almost as if to reflect their growing understanding of each other.

Holbourn’s writing can be a little heavy-handed in places, and though I very much appreciated the message, there were occasions where I would have liked the writing to be a little more subtle. I did feel like the show could have used some quieter moments to breathe a little.

However, the performances were incredibly powerful: Tamsin Harding’s transformation through the show from a vulnerable child (the first story shared is one of being sexually assaulted at eleven years old on a bus) to a woman with palpable anger over the way she has been treated in her life is incredibly well done and every moment of her performance is believable. What hit me the most was the detachment in her monologue where she talks about various moments of sexual harassment throughout her life. That moment feels incredibly raw as it reminds me of myself and so many other women I know who have had these kinds of experiences, and talk about them like they’re no big deal because it has become so normal for them to experience these things. Her delivery was really beautiful and you could feel every moment of the emotions she was portraying through her words.

Arthur Perdreau also delivers an incredibly powerful performance. One of the strengths of Violated is the contrast between the two characters. Where “Woman” has a lot of moments of righteous anger throughout, “Man” is in many ways the quieter, more vulnerable performance. I very much appreciated this overturning of stereotypes; that the female character in this was allowed to express her anger and the male character was allowed to express his vulnerability. Perdreau does a great job of expressing his character’s vulnerability through his body language. His physical movement was the highlight of his performance for me, as his body language said as much about the way his character was feeling as the words he was speaking. At one moment, he backs up against the wall and curls into himself as he struggles to share his story: he doesn’t say anything but it’s so clear what he is going through.

The way music is used throughout is also very effective. Franziska Beck’s music perfectly highlights the performances and creates a great atmosphere, always adding emphasis rather than detracting from the pairs’ spoken words.

Violated is a piece that sets out to be thought-provoking and to start a conversation. In that it certainly succeeded if the conversations following the show were anything to go by. It’s not an easy piece of theatre to watch but it’s a very necessary one and the beautiful performances by Harding and Perdreau mean that it is certainly one that will live in my mind for a while. It’s a very timely show that would be well worth a longer life beyond this Camden Fringe run. The conversations it could start about consent in all its forms would be invaluable.

Words by Jo Elliott

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