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Man Down

Jack Hart
Exploding Whale Theatre
Tristan Bates Theatre
to

“I think my girlfriend raped me,” says Nick to a trained health worker who thinks he said “boyfriend” rather than “girlfriend”, before advising him not to speak to her about it in case it compromises any legal actions.

Jack Hart’s sensitive if provocative play Man Down poses some very serious questions about the way society views the issue of a woman raping a man. It is unsettling and challenging.

Yet it begins quite differently. Nick (Max Ferguson) is holding a surprise party for Liv (Zoe Watson). Both are relaxed, loving and buoyed up by the event. It is an evening in the pleasant company of family and friends.

No surprise, then, that Liv would like to finish the day with a sexual encounter, though Nick doesn’t want one. Judge for yourself whether the encounter is consensual, a sexual assault or rape.

It certainly impacts on Nick, who becomes awkward about being touched, whether that simply involves shaking hands, or joining the inevitable crush of travelling by tube.

Liv notices enough to complain, to be abusive, to even pour hot coffee over him. And yet she clearly loves him and says so.

The health worker who speaks to him after he has tried to kill himself explains he is suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and stuffs a bundle of papers in his hands.

A friend Marcus (Oliver Clayton) offers support, but others find it hard to believe. After all, Liv is a good, caring teacher, articulate and charming. Surely, suggests a woman friend, he is just trying to confuse the whole issue of the terrible violence women suffer from men.

This is an engaging play that raises important issues about the current UK law which reinforces gender stereotypes by claiming that legally a woman cannot be charged with the rape of a man (or another woman).

It points to the way the law needs to be changed, as do the discriminatory social attitudes that discourage men from admitting traumatic abuse and stigmatise those who do.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna