This week’s theatre highlights

Looking out for one another: Stage highlights take dispiriting look at blame, victimhood and apathy in society, and wonder about how to rebuild trust

Lauren Coe as Emma in Landmark Productions and the Everyman world premiere production of Asking for It by Louise O Neill. Photograph: Hugh O Conor

Lauren Coe as Emma in Landmark Productions and the Everyman world premiere production of Asking for It by Louise O Neill. Photograph: Hugh O Conor

 

ASKING FOR IT

Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Nov 9-24 7.30pm (Sat mat 2pm) €13-€45 abbeytheatre.ie – In these alternately distressing and galvanising days, you have to remind yourself that Louise O’Neill’s breakthrough novel, Asking For It, was inspired by real events abroad rather than a grim prediction of what could happen much closer to home. An account of an 18-year-old girl, Emma O’Donovan, raped at a house party by the sports stars of her school, and distrusted in the fallout by the divided community of her picturesque Cork village, it will have an unsettling timeliness for as long as rape culture exists.

That the town should devolve into victim-blaming in O’Neill’s story is characteristic of close-knit tribal guardians. But the complexity of O’Neill’s fiction is to make its victim flawed from the beginning – disloyal, low on self-esteem, using sexuality as power – while also blameless. It asks us to understand the difference.

Already the inspiration for a television documentary and in the process of being adapted for the screen, the book reached the stage earlier this year in Cork in an adaptation by the terrific writer Meadhbh McHugh.

How to depict such a story, which the book distends through individual perspective, drunken blackouts and social media shaming, has been the task of Landmark and the Everyman Theatre’s co-production, in association with the Abbey and Cork Midsummer Festival, and the excellent director Annabelle Comyn.

Such accounts, we know too well, rarely come without controversy, but given uncanny, discomfiting similarities with real life, how can anyone still have difficulty believing them?

THE BYSTANDER

Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Nov 9-10 7.30pm €18-€20 projectartscentre.ie – The fate of Kitty Genovese still haunts us. In 1964, the young woman was stabbed, sexually assaulted and murdered outside her apartment block in New York, reportedly in full view of 38 of her neighbours, none of whom came to help. That, however, was not entirely the case: a much-discussed report in the New York Times assumed the worst and accentuated the sensationally negative.

The event, nonetheless, inspired both despair, soul-searching and much study: had society really disintegrated to such a nadir, or were there mitigating factors? The gruesome, dispiriting event is now the cornerstone of the psychological theory of “the bystander effect”.

That is also the concern of this new dance production from Ireland’s Junk Ensemble, which debuted at this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival and now performs at Project Arts Centre. Much of it is informed by an angry response to Genovese’s ignominious tragedy, with fresh resonance for a time of indifference and apathy in the face of horrors far-flung and near.

“Movement is deeply embedded, jittery twitches and guttural contractions that portray the conflict between conformity and individual responsibility,” wrote Irish Times dance critic Michael Seaver in an approving review. “Societal conformity seems to wins out.”

Layering the Genovese’s story with allusions to the bleak existentialism of Camus’s The Stranger, while featuring notes on cowed behaviour and personal culpability against urban anomie, The Bystander brings together dancers and actors to probe at our responsibility to each other.

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