Asking for It – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: Louise O’Neill

Adaptor: Meadhbh McHugh

Director: Annabelle Comyn

Emma and her circle are on the cusp of adulthood. During the week, they study hard to get into college and skirt around their emerging sexuality. At the weekend, they party. There’s already been one drunken incident involving Emma and a friend that they have agreed to ignore and pretend never happened, though rumours have been rife around school and their friendship is under strain.

The one weekend, their local team wins a big match and the celebrations go on into the night. A drunken Emma, high on adrenaline, decides the time has come to maybe try ecstasy; the upshot is that next morning she has little recollection of the night before, but the boys’ Facebook tells the story all too graphically for all to see. She is quickly ostracised by her friends as they grow to mistrust her and the boys with whom they had been flirting.

Fast forward a year and the village is split between those who think the ‘Ballinatoom Girl’ is simply regretting her drunken actions and making mischievous allegations and those believing her to be the victim of several boys.  Emma has become a recluse and relationships in the family are strained and worsen further, the ripples of the case spreading far beyond them. Emma is left in an impossible situation, joining others in blaming herself for the boys’ actions that night – and it might be two more years before any trial concludes.

Asking For It takes a warts-and-all approach to the teens and adults it portrays. All of the characters are flawed to some extent and, at the beginning at any rate, it’s difficult to warm to many of them – including Emma, who, as the most attractive among her friends, rules the roost. But the impact of the incident, in which she was an innocent party despite the alcohol and drugs, on her, her family and her relationships is clear during the second half, and one begins to empathise and feel her pain and bewilderment.

Lauren Coe gives a towering performance as Emma, as we see her insecurities laid increasingly bare, her disintegration complete. Liam Heslin is in similar fine form as her brother, the one person unequivocally on her side, while Dawn Bradfield and Simon O’Gorman are superb as Emma’s parents sucked down by the whirlpool of events – events that they maybe feel, in their hearts of hearts, that Emma somehow precipitated herself, leading to the tension in the family.

Paul Mahoney’s set design is filled with distorted reflections and shadows, half-seen actions that reinforce the power of perception, supported by Sinéad McKenna’s at times stark lighting and Jack Phelan’s frequently discombobulating video projections. The whole set closes in during the second half that takes place almost exclusively in the kitchen of Emma’s home, reinforcing the increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere of a family with constantly reducing options.

The first half maybe feels a touch long setting up the events of a year later although its dénouement is certainly shocking and leads to much discussion in the interval. The second, however, is very well-judged as we watch the cracks in the family relationship widen even as we watch.

Asking For It is by no means an easy watch. One frequently feels uncomfortable, even voyeuristic, as one watches the inevitable decline it portrays. It is an important story, one that reinforces the importance of consent, consent freely given, regardless of any other factors that may be present.

Runs until 15 February 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Powerful and difficult to watch

User Rating: 1.98 ( 4 votes)

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. I thought it was a damning indictment of our current sexual culture and victim blaming and the utter mis-use of social media. But though it was a fine novel, it is very difficult to dramatise on a stage the internal literary monologues of the main character. Lauren Coe does a fine job as Emma but it a clunky production and much too long. The director had to work hard to give voice to Emma using monologue to audience, voice over and good use of the vid backdrop to portray her deterioration after the rape. But it just didn’t work for me

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