Review by Carly Fisher
Sexual assault and rape cases too often dominate our news - be they celebrity cases or just the average person - the constant question of a woman’s safety remains one of the most prominent conversations of our 2022 landscape.
20 Minutes of Action offers a Verbatim presentation into what the experience of rape is from a variety of perspectives - the victim, the perpetrator and their loved ones. Interestingly, though briefly, it also touches on the effect of being a witness to the event - in this instance, the person who found the victim and confronted the perpetrator, and the long term emotional implications on that person - an otherwise stranger - as well.
Verbatim is not an easy medium - told through the presentation of exact words and documentations from the people whose story you are sharing, there is a responsibility to get it right and portray authentic, honest characters and representations of the event. Furthermore, the challenges of Verbatim lie often in the fact that you cannot control what the individual has said, how dramatic it is, how high the stakes are.
Luckily, in 20 minutes of action, the people interviewed for this piece used some beautifully yet haunting poetic language, particularly the survivor of the assault. This strong and fluid language is delivered with deep emotion and consideration by Shannon Yuen, who is a true stand out throughout the piece.
The opening image of the production is powerful and utilises the intimate space of the Pleasance Courtyard Beneath Theatre skillfully. The cast stand, backs turned to the audience, completely still, from the moment the audience enters and immediately, as the audience climbs around these pillars of still bodies to take their seats, the symbolism is apparent but the questions are great - are they standing as representations of the number of unidentified individuals whom have been assaulted? Are they standing backwards as a reminder of how astutely we, as society, turn a blind eye to assault and particularly to rape vicitims?
Throughout, there are clearly attempts by the Director, Pollyanna Esse, to achieve strong moments of symbolism in the way that the show is blocked, however, none land as powerfully as this opening image. Following this, an excellently produced projection puts us in the world of this story and reminds us that everything we are about to hear is true - a message powerful always for those less familiar with the Verbatim style.
The story is innately powerful and Verbatim, in my opinion, is the perfect medium to tell it. However, this production has fallen into one of Verbatim’s key traps which is a consistent tempo - there is no variation in pace and accordingly, the emotional landscape of the piece is left somewhat monotonous. Light and Shade needs to be more effectively explored in order to continue punching the audience with the message throughout - instead, what we see at the beginning remains largely unchanged throughout and as such, the characters don’t develop as wholly as they could otherwise.
A young looking cast, the performances are strong with standouts being the aforementioned Yuen, Louisa Chang as the victim’s sister and Fiona Forster as the perpetrator’s mother. These three women offer such raw and emotive performances and I definitely look forward to seeing them on stage again in other productions. In the final moments of the play, characters to the wayside, Chang, Forster, Connor McCausland and Ellie Watermeyer deliver one of the most powerful moments of the show - a reminder of the universality of this story and the enumerate victims. McCausland here is chilling in the power with which he delivers this part of the story.
Though the sound design throughout the piece was strong, it was slightly too didactic in telling us what we, as an audience, were supposed to be feeling at each point of the production. A more effective sound design would have guided us but allowed us to arrive at our own emotional conclusions.
Ultimately, the performance is good and I am glad that I saw it at this year’s Fringe, however I do think that with some re-direction, the piece could easily be great and, in my opinion, the best way to achieve this would be to vary the pace and increase the natural flow of the performance, thereby inherently reminding the audience of just how real this story is.
Despite this though, the performances are strong, the story interesting and I would urge people to see it at the fringe as the script raises some important questions.
What the show very cleverly achieves is a feeling of discomfort for the audience as you consider the punishment of the perpetrator - a young man at a good college and a star on his school’s track team…oh, and a white man at that. Where the average sentence for crimes like his is generally 7 years in prison, he received only 6 months and was released in half that time for good behavior. Initially, this seems outrageous. However, throughout the piece, the company presents so many sides to this that one must constantly reassess their thoughts on his punishment. Is it beneficial to society to punish young people harsher than this for fair retribution to the victim, even if it means that any future for that person is abolished? It’s a tough question that I felt that the production raised excellently and certainly will leave me thinking in days to come.