The lights go down. The actors leave the stage. A stunned silence envelopes the audience. We’re clapping. We’re on our feet. We are awestruck.
The play is about Emma O’Donovan, someone we all know. She’s the ‘it’ girl of secondary school; popular, beautiful, smart. One night takes all of this away. She is stripped of every defining feature she once prided herself on. She becomes the Ballinatoon girl. The teenage girl has lost ownership of her own body.
“She is an it”.
Emma is gang-raped by a group of boys at a house party. The vicious and humiliating attack was plastered across social media. These are boys she knew. These are boys we all know. Acquaintances. GAA stars. Friends.
Louise O’Neill’s harrowing novel about sexual violence and rape culture in Ireland is perfectly translated to the stage by Meadhbh McHugh and Annabelle Comyn. The fluidity of the performance was breathtaking, ranging from a synchronised dance routine to the harrowing depiction of assault. The use of pre-recorded dialogue gave the audience a glimpse into the minds of the characters, bringing us another layer closer to the story. The stunning stage by Paul O’Mahony, consisted of a large perspex structure made up of several window panels, which contracted and expanded to portray a bedroom, a kitchen and the many facets of a house party.
The play grew in intensity with every passing moment. Lauren Coe embodies the role of Emma perfectly, leading an amazing group of actors through the tale. The character of Emma is incredibly hard to digest. She is arrogant, spiteful and, by the end of the play, entirely alone. Her parents represent a generation who would rather cover up the ugly truth than to face it, head on, in the pursuit of justice. They don’t know how to deal with the sudden stigma that surrounds their once happy family. They have taken on Emma’s trauma and they resent her for it.
I wish I could say that this alarmingly affecting tale resolves itself towards a happy ending but there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Emma does what she believes is right by her parents, regardless of her own convictions. It is real life.
If the audience had their way, the standing ovation would last forever. We are clapping hard. Clapping out the frustration, anger, tension and sadness that has been building since the play began. In the lobby of the theatre, there are tear-stained faces and rosy cheeks. The lingering sense of shock is palpable. Groups are huddled together in discussion, visibly affected by the story of Emma O’Donovan.
Photo courtesy of Hugh O’Connor & the Abbey Theatre