Louise O’Neill’s powerfully poignant Irish novel Asking For It has been adapted for the stage and made its UK premiere at Birmingham Rep.
When Emma, a teenager who lives in a small town in Ireland is raped at a party, it turns her life upside down. A group of lads from the heroic local football team rape her and post photos online, but the people refuse to believe it. As the trial plays out, Emma is unable to leave the house, with the tight-knit community taking sides with the lads, her life and family begin to fall apart.
It’s a harrowing and compelling piece of theatre that captures the universal issue so intricately. We see the themes of rape culture, toxic masculinity and consent untangle throughout this production. Director Annabelle Comyn doesn’t sugar coat anything and the piece is created with conviction.
Emma is a troubled teenager who like most young girls, will do anything to impress the boys in her class and get their attention. It’s scary to see how much young girls adapt and mould themselves into someone they think boys want them to be. Drunk and high, Emma finds herself the a compromising position at a house party where she is devastatingly taken advantage of.
Through the use of technology, audio and an innovative moving set, the audience experience Emma’s emotions in a remarkably raw way. Paul O’Mahony’s set consists of glass boxes that move around to create the different rooms and locations. This is particularly clever in the house party scene as the clarity of what is happening across the house is blurred – mirroring Emma’s experience.
Each act of the show feel very different, the first act is setting the scene and introducing us to the school kids. It’s playful, comedic and full of embarrassing teenage banter, but it’s entirely relatable. I watched it and cringed, because that is exactly how we all acted at that age, which emphasises how scarily relevant this story is. In act two they really crank up the drama and the acting is exceptional. We watch Emma and her family fall apart because of her trauma and it’s heartbreaking to watch.
Lauren Coe originated the role at the Everyman Theatre in Cork and she depicts the role with such nuance. We see her lose her confidence and sense of self as she feels shamed by what happened to her. Coe takes us on an emotional journey and she sensitively portrays the role to allow the audience to really feel for her.
Her father, played by Simon O’Gormon, struggles to come to terms with what has happened and tries to sweep it under the carpet. Whilst her mother, played by Dawn Bradfield, is trying to make everything appear okay. Her love and compassion towards her daughter fades with time as her community turn against the family. Liam Heslin plays Emma’s brother Bryan, who seems to be the only one rooting for her. It’s distressing to watch as Bryan pleads through tears for his parents to give Emma the support she desperately needs.
The whispered conversations, lack of eye contact and calm facade soon explodes as the family erupt. The scene that takes place at the dinner table, where the family finally have the conversation they’ve been avoiding for so long, sends a shiver up your spine. It’s heart-aching to watch as the conflicted family unpick what has shadowed over them for so long.
Although it’s an Irish story, it’s incredibly universal and sadly something that takes place all over the world. It’s a fearless stage production that should be seen by every young person who is navigating the complexities growing up.
Asking For It is uncomfortable, harrowing but entirely essential theatre that has the power to make change. Educating audiences in sexual exploitation and consent, it is an eye-opening production that reminds us that rape culture is something that is still so prevalent today.
Asking For It is on at Birmingham Rep until Saturday 15th of February before continuing on tour across the UK.