Dangerous To Know
The Seven Oaks Pub, Manchester
Life imitates art which is imitating life in Caroline Lamb’s On Me.
Shona (Leah Eddleston) and Christian (Alexi Papadopoulos) are actors filming a true crime documentary in which a violent sex offence is recreated. After filming, they chat about their art, the benefit of playing a villain and praise each other’s work. However, the experience of making the film may be impacting upon their private lives. Shona is flirtatious, even assertive, and attracted to Christian but one of the scenes in the film gives her a panic attack making Christian very cautious about forming a relationship with someone who has been traumatised in the past.
It takes some time for the point of On Me to become clear. There are red herrings at the beginning—mention is made of Shona’s twin sister and Christian's interest in the transcripts of the crime may be morbid—hinting at a possible thriller. But On Me is a thoughtful examination of a society in which violence against women is accepted as a casual occurrence, often minimised by victims and officials, and the consequent impact upon people who might be regarded as bystanders rather than perpetrators.
Director Helen Parry takes a natural approach with a strong emphasis on authenticity. The performances are low-key despite the heated subject matter, with characters puzzled and bemused into inertia rather than moved to frustration or anger. The film set is very well realised, complete with the telephone number of the Intimacy Co-Ordinator on display. Every inch of the set is utilised, with the cast popping up around the audience.
For a show with extensive detailed spoken passages, some of the most effective scenes are achieved in silence. A stagehand sitting uninvited, legs spread next to Shona, could be perceived as male intrusion into her personal space. On the other hand, he might just be hoping she will take a hint and move so he can get on with his work and dismantle the set. Little in On Me can be taken at face value.
Unlike, say, David Mamet or Steve Coogan / Sarah Solemani, Caroline Lamb avoids satirising what some might regard as the excesses of the #MeToo era. There is an almost resigned tone to the play. The fear women feel on a daily basis while simply trying to get home at night is spelt out in a sparse, chilling manner. The confusion experienced by men overly aware of the possible consequences of their actions comes across from Christian’s conflicted behaviour. The viewpoints of both characters are given equal weight and it is possible the conclusion might have had greater impact had Shona been assigned priority.
Lamb sets out the arguments but does not form a conclusion; Christian, rather than challenge the current state of affairs, simply gives up. The understated approach results in a lack of momentum so there is no sense of one damn thing after another pushing to crisis point. Consequently, the final moment is not immediately convincing as reaching the point where words fail.
On Me is a thought-provoking play with great potential and might benefit from some tweaking to sharpen the frustration of the characters and the drama of the conclusion.
Reviewer: David Cunningham