Anathema

Anathema is a promising first piece of work from Bearded Dog Theatre, starting strong with difficult topics not often discussed on stage – specifically the issue of male rape. The show focuses on the horror, fear and fury that develops in response to rape: showing examples of when the subsequent emotional wounds and request for support, comes up against the dismissiveness and disbelief of the wider society.

It is a good exploration of the pure pain involved, however, do not expect it to provide any suggested answers to the questions it raises.

The piece starts with Jamie being forced by two of his friends into admitting that he had been raped at New Year. We follow the run up to the rape using flashbacks, getting to know a wide circle of first year students as they form friendships in the run up to New Years. These flashbacks are interspersed with present day as Jamie and his friends try to deal with this revelation, and pass the horrific news around their friend group, only to be rebutted by some of the perpetuated myths about male rape. The piece’s main success was in building up this roster of characters – most of whom you like – and leaving the giant question mark hanging over them, as to who was the one who did it. The questions of which one of these supposed friends has a dark secret.

Nial Kiely, the writer and also playing Jamie, has a real sense for an awkward conversation, at points really hitting the nail on the head with the language of student chatter. Including a stunning example of everything I loathe about the drinking game Never Have I Ever – and its ability to produce uncomfortable situations. At other points, the dialogue felt very forced to deliberately drag the conversation into the right place – it’s tough to subtly slip in statistics. The cast brought the text to life reassembly well, they made a convincing enough group of students. They handled the heavy material well, at some points managing to conjure up a level of horror that made you want to look away. Although it would be nice if the women could get more variation in their roles other than bitch or Mother Teresa.

Sadly, for a show that intends to raise issues and ideas about male rape it never goes beyond the horror and drama in the actual event and immediate aftermath. Jamie comes up against society’s ignorance, and struggles with his intense emotional reaction. We even see Jamie’s actual rape as the finale to the piece in a moment of high drama. There is no sense of providing an alternative narrative to the myths, no exploration for Jamie’s ability to continue to exist with this burden as part of his life. No hope or valuable lessons for the future. Just the raw horror of the deed itself and the initial destructive power.

What was particularly concerning, was the poor handling of the sub-plot regarding Clara. Clara is a virgin when she comes to University and proceeds to be pressured into sex by her boyfriend; something she remains furious about later in the piece. For a show about tackling the stigma of rape, the fact that this is never addressed as rape in the show is very worrying.

If you’re interested in plays about underrepresented social issues, this one is for you. It is a good exploration of the pure pain involved, however, do not expect it to provide any suggested answers to the questions it raises.

Reviews by M Johnson

Old Fire Station - Cafe

An Intervention

★★★
M6 Theatre Company

Little Gift

★★★
Assembly Roxy

Thor and Loki

★★★
Paradise in The Vault

Quines

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Grace

★★
Summerhall

Status

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Anathema. (n). ‘Someone or something that one vehemently dislikes.’ Jamie was raped at a New Year's Eve party, but it has taken him a month to tell anyone. Whilst his friends struggle to accept the truth, Jamie reflects on what occurred since he moved to university and the events that led up to his rape. This tragic story tackles the typically taboo subjects of male rape and rape culture through the eyes of a group of students.

Most Popular See More

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Hairspray

From £22.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Les Miserables

From £22.00

More Info

Find Tickets