We’ve all been there – you’re walking along, thinking your thoughts, and someone calls out, “Cheer up love, it might never happen!” A bit annoying, maybe, but basically harmless, right? But what if you’re on your way to work and you get wolf whistled, is that still okay? Or a guy sits next to you on the tube and won’t stop trying to chat you up even though you’re clearly uncomfortable? Or a stranger attacks you on the way home one night…?
Where do we draw the line between what’s harmless, and what isn’t? This is one of the questions posed by Might Never Happen from Doll’s Eye Theatre, a thoughtful and commendably balanced exploration of the vast spectrum of acts that constitute street harassment. Written by members of the company, in collaboration with researchers Dr. Fiona Vera-Gray and Dr. Maria Garner, the show takes us through a series of individual scenes, performed by six actors. Some of them are funny, others horrifying, and still others unnervingly reminiscent of our own experiences – but all are designed to make us consider not only the actions themselves, but also the attitudes behind them.
Although the main focus of the show is the risks faced by women, director Amy Ewbank maintains balance in both cast and content. So two male actors (Ashley Sean Cook and Paul Matania) join members of the all-female company (Catherine Deevy, Danielle Nott, Kirsty Osmon and Vicki Welles) to ensure we get to hear a man’s perspective, as perpetrator, observer and victim of street harassment. More than one scene presents us with the alternative view – from both men and women – that receiving a compliment from a stranger is something to be welcomed rather than condemned, while others challenge the culture of victim blaming, and the belief that street harassment is an inevitability we just have to learn to live with.
The result is a show that educates without preaching, throwing out a variety of different arguments for its audience to consider. It also lightens a heavy subject with some very funny moments, to make the point that harassment isn’t always scary (and therein lies one of the problems with defining and punishing it); sometimes it’s just a bit ridiculous, something to be laughed over and dismissed.
The cast handle these shifts from dark to light and back again with ease, keeping each character distinct from the one before, so we have no trouble separating the woman who’s shocked by her boyfriend’s casual attitude towards complimenting strangers, for instance, from the one who herself feels that’s perfectly okay.
Though it’s minutely researched and carefully structured to cover many different facets of street harassment, Might Never Happen stops short of telling us what to think, or even suggesting solutions. Instead it sets out to provide us with the material we need to go away and start our own conversations about this huge and complex topic. And it reminds us that we all – male or female – have a voice in the discussion.
Might Never Happen is at King’s Head Theatre (Sundays and Mondays) until 16th May.