‘Asking For It’ tells the story of Emma O’Donovan (played by Aisling Kearns), the Queen Bee of her secondary school clique. She brags, via voiceover, of being the best-looking member of her group and openly admits to valuing her looks over her brains.
Kearn’s portrayal is expertly three-dimensional. Everyone knows this girl. Everyone went to school or worked with a girl like her. We tolerated her. We rolled our eyes at her when she left the room.
Emma is not set up to be what people define ‘a victim’. She is shallow, messy, disrespectful to her parents, and at times, completely uncaring. But this is the genius of the production. It challenges the audience to expand their perception of what victimhood means, how it is treated, whether it is validated.
Directed by Annabelle Comyn, the production is visually and audibly engrossing. Fragmented faces flash up on a giant LED screens, parts of the dialogue are read out over voiceover, and the sets authentically mimic that of a classic kitchen set-up, a danceclub and school yard.
After a party, Emma is brutally sexually assaulted. Images are taken and spread across social media. When Emma makes a formal complaint, she and her family becomes the targets of a small Irish town who see ‘the boys’ (i.ie her perpetrators’) as blameless jokesters, and her as the promiscuous and drunk girl, who begged for it and later changed her mind.
We’ve all read about these kinds of stories in the papers, or watched it on the news, or scrolled past them on our social media pages. But, it isn’t until the action plays out right before our eyes that we truly let the extent of the issues explored sink in.
The presence of the male characters, with the exception of Conor (Tiernan Messit-Greene) and Emma’s brother, Bryan (Liam Heslin), makes the audience visibly squirm. Immature, emotionally repulsive and harbouring disgusting attitudes towards their female classmates, they constantly try and flaunt their macho pride. Meanwhile, the girls also participate in the ganging up of fellow classmates, pressuring their supposed friends into situations they are clearly uncomfortable with.
But it is the portrayal of the parents (Dawn Bradfield and Simon O’Gorman) which packs the hardest punch.The final scene between Emma’s family are some of the most harrowing I’ve seen in theatre. The O’Donovans clash over the experiences they’ve had over the last number of months, culminating in Bradfield’s heart wrenching line, ‘We’re under siege’.
Audiences members dried their eyes as they stood up from their seats. There was almost a hesitancy to clap during the actor’s bows, for there was still a burning and raw stillness hanging in the air.
‘Asking For it’ is an engaging, emotionally immersive and impactful piece, that everyone needs to see and see.
‘Asking For It’ plays in the Gaiety Theatre until October 26th.
Review by Kevin Worrall