One Good Night
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
A comic drama about rape sounds like something Bialystock and Bloom would produce when trying to offend the maximum number of people. Actually the only aspect of One Good Night that is conventionally funny is the performance of Susan McArdle who has the uncanny knack of building up to, then missing, a punchline which is perfect for her role as the somewhat gormless neighbour Julie. In the main, the humour in Aisling Caffrey’s play is disquieting and uneasy—a revenge fantasy turns really nasty—which fits the grim subject matter.
Amelia (Sammy Winward) has, without explanation, walked out on her boyfriend Pete (Oliver Devoti). She has moved in with her friend May (Misha Duncan-Barry) but the arrangement is not satisfactory. May finds Amelia a poor guest and sympathises with Pete who appears baffled as to what caused Amelia to leave. As Amelia’s self-destructive drinking reaches a crisis, the truth about the incident emerges—or does it?
Rape is shown as a highly subjective issue—those involved both insisting their viewpoint is correct. At one point in the play, Amelia remarks that constantly thinking about the alleged rape ‘’makes you lose your mind’’ and director Alyx Tole exploits this unbalanced and confused situation to maximum effect. A variety of possible events, rather than a single definitive version, are shown. The atmosphere is delirious with a heartbeat pulsing in the background and there is the possibility all of the events are occurring in Amelia’s disturbed mind as she obsesses about the incident.
The subjective approach leads to some clumsy aspects. Conversations slip into clunky speeches and there are awkward metaphors about broken jigsaws and the destructive power of ivy. The character of May seems designed to introduce into the play a degree of scepticism about Amelia’s allegations. However, sexual situations, by their nature, involve high passions and intense emotions and the approach taken by Tole shows how it is impossible to find an objective viewpoint in such circumstances. A highpoint of the play involves a confrontation between Amelia and her rapist being repeated on a loop from a slightly different viewpoint each time so Pete appears repentant / concerned / confused / indignant without a clear conclusion being reached.
The horrible ambiguity about rape is caught in Oliver Devoti’s performance with Pete alternating from seductively charming, cunningly manipulative or outright violent. Of course, these traits could be imposed upon him by Amelia’s subjective viewpoint.
Author Aisling Caffrey challenges the audience to conclude that Amelia’s lifestyle—which involves heavy consumption of alcohol and a fondness for rough sex—means she invited or deserved the attack or is an unreliable witness. The confrontational approach is chillingly undercut by Sammy Winward’s sympathetic performance interpreting Amelia as a trauma survivor with moods swinging from self-destructive drunkenness to horrified realisation of what she has endured. The look of baffled hurt on Winward’s highly-expressive face is the strongest proof that Amelia has suffered a terrifying betrayal of trust by someone she loved.
There are no clear answers in One Good Night but the challenging approach taken is refreshing and thought-provoking, particularly as the play is staged in the week when Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual offences.
Reviewer: David Cunningham