Karin McCracken is Jane Doe, the girl(s) who do not need naming, for their stories are both individual and known all too well. Horrifically so – these are the stories of girls who get drunk at parties and end up being raped or assaulted or slut shamed. Sometimes even drugged, or intoxicated to the point of remembering nothing the next day. The feeling of waking up with a gaping hole in your memories, but a gnawing dread in the pit of your stomach, must be excruciating.
Writer and director Eleanor Bishop uses multimedia to give the audience a sense of the nightmare that so many people live through all across the world. We engage in role plays of court scenes, listen to audio of girls openly discussing their experiences of female catcalling or their fears of walking down the road alone at night. We read text messages from accused rapists to their mates, bragging of their conquests and then worrying of the repercussions. We are outraged, furious – we write our opinions and project them onto the stage for all to see. Safety in our anonymity, security in our togetherness.
While safety is great, sometimes sticking your head above the parapet is the only way to effect change. That’s what these women have done in prosecuting against their alleged attackers; that’s what McCracken and Bishop are doing with their show. As a gay man who has written about being raped previously, I wish I had the courage of these individuals to prosecute my attackers at the time. It’s a message I add to the board, safe in the knowledge that it is anonymous – it’s why I write it down now but don’t say it aloud, as if speaking the words makes it all too real.
McCracken intersperses these cases with accounts of looking for love in the tween, teenage and early adult years. From high school gym dances to fretting over a first kiss, at an early age we think about sex and lust as romantic validation. There are a number of film quotes that brainwash us into thinking this, either from a derogatory or progressive perspective – we cover ‘She’s All That’ and ‘The Notebook’.
We also cover media responses from these cases – if she can’t remember, why should he go to jail? Parts of this are harrowingly descriptive, others are simply prescriptive, as if McCracken is preaching to the converted about a subject we all have heard about many times before. This doesn’t diminish the importance of continuing to address the issue, it simply reduces the theatrical impact it may have in such an open and accepting setting.
There are several stunned silences in Jane Doe, points at which the audience is too affected to engage. McCracken is vigilant, constantly checking every audience participant to see if they are ok, reassuring us all that we may step outside or withdraw from participating if we need to. This is an exposing, vulnerable topic – we should feel this way, it’s the way the victims must feel.
In the end, Bishop’s script reminds us that Jane Doe is an either-or situation. The world might be changed, or it might stay the same; rapists may go to jail, or they might get off scot-free. All options happen, nothing changes. With the exception of Jane Doe – unless of course, that is not the case.
Jane Doe plays Assembly George Square as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.