“Thought-provoking and sincere”
Eleanor Bishop’s Jane Doe is a thought-provoking and sincere piece of theatre looking at the subject of rape culture. The performance is entirely led by trained lawyer and theatre maker Karin McKracken, who up until recently was a specialist educator for the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. Her ease with and care for the audience are apparent from the get-go as she introduces herself and welcomes each person – we know this is going to be a safe space and some difficult subjects are going to be covered.
The show begins with some innocent musings about being a young girl and all of those exciting yet scary experiences everyone goes through – the first time a boy asks you to dance, that first kiss etc. The narrative is endearing and at times amusing, the atmosphere is relaxed, and a sense of reminiscence about one’s own awkward teenage moments is encouraged: this is very much a show for everyone and anyone, at any time, with any amount of experience.
Soon the show takes on a more serious note, getting straight to the main issue of sexual assault and consent. The main story covers a real-life incident involving Jane Doe, a young girl who goes to a party, has too much to drink and is later sexually assaulted by male comrades of a similar age to herself.
Throughout the performance attitudes and boundaries to his incident are explored. We experience the trial after the assault, where different parts of the official transcript are read out by volunteer members of the audience. This device of audience participation helps reassert the feeling of this show and issue being relatable and necessary to and for everyone. It brings a sense of togetherness and mutual support amongst the audience, which is rare and uplifting.
In addition to the live performance element, there are several interludes of recorded video and audio, including shocking recordings of media coverage of sexual assaults by high profile characters such as Piers Morgan. These act as a great contrast to highlight the different responses and attitudes to the subject matter being discussed, and the difficulty of gaining clarity on the issue.
At one or two points during the performance the audience is given a small breather, where everyone is invited to submit anonymous messages about their thoughts and feelings via an online form. All the messages are then displayed on the screen at the back of the stage, so we can see what other people are feeling. This is another interesting device which helps build unity and support within the room, and allows for a genuine conversation. These sections work well in making the show seem less like a performance and more like an open discussion, which ultimately was the aim. Personally I find the topic of rape culture and sexual assault difficult to talk about, as do most, and I guess this is one of the main issues we have in our society.
Although at times the show is emotionally overwhelming, it is incredible how Karin McKracken takes any awkwardness away with her calm and open personality. She broaches a difficult subject in an honest manner, making us feel completely at ease. This may not be one of the more pleasant and glitzy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, and at times it is frustratingly stringy with the amount of content actually performed, but it’s absolutely an eye-opening experience and an important watch.
Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 10 August)