In 2018 a female photographer with the pseudonym of Grace accused the American comedian Aziz Ansari of sexual assault after their date. The couple went back to his flat in New York after dinner, and the two engaged in sexual activity. If you read her account of the evening it is clear that Ansari ignored her signals, both verbal and physical, to stop. He, however, maintains that what happened was fun and consensual. Greyscale at The VAULT Festival explores this grey area where clear communication falters.
Meeting outside, the audience of 10 is told that it is going to witness a date, one which the man, James, thinks is a success but the woman, Lucy, believes verges on assault. We select whose testimony we want to hear first. It’s not easy to warm to Lucy – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust her version of events – with her tales of previous dates, and her Northern Irish accent imbuing her with a toughness that she may not have. The man is cheeky, easy-going, but a little full of himself, aware that he thinks he has the recipe for a perfect date.
This show is only 30 minutes, and the best part is the middle when we witness, as voyeurs, some of the date, but it would be a shame to spoil how this scene appears. Created by Leila Sykes and Stella Taylor for Anonymous Is a Woman Theatre Company, Greyscale is promoted as an interactive event, and yet the actors (both uncredited) remain very much on script. There’s no time to ask them questions and both their narratives are vague. It’s up to the audience to decide whether an assault has occurred.
At the conclusion of this, ultimately unsatisfying, piece there is a space set aside for the audience to decide who is telling the truth or whether either of the characters have overstepped the mark. This conversation should have been the best part of the evening with strangers discussing how they had viewed the date, but in the performance I saw the audience dispersed quickly and I was left to dwell on the events alone. Perhaps the other nine people had somewhere else to go, or perhaps the show is just too grey for arguments to transpire.
This has the potential to be a fascinating show, but its framework is nothing new. David Mamet explored similar territory in his 1992 play Oleanna, and just last month the BBC carried out an experiment in the programme Is This Sexual Harassment?, in which 20 young people watch a drama and then vote on whether they think a character is guilty of sexual misconduct. Greyscalecasts little new light on these grey areas.