(There are some pretty major spoilers here)
Once, at NSDF, in 2013, there was a discussion about rape. I don’t remember which show it was in reference to, but I remember in the morning debate there were excuses thrown around as to why someone might accidentally become a rapist, with mental illness cited as a key factor. I remember someone – I am relatively sure it was Chris Thorpe – standing up, and in words more eloquent than I can recall, telling the crowd that rape cannot be excused, and we should not try to find excuses to help those who commit the crime. He got a big clap.
Mr Incredible at the Vaults Festival has strong statements to make, but it also seems like it feels guilty about making them, and so falls prey to the society it is trying to critique.
Adam and Holly have broken up, and over the course of this one man show, we slowly discover why. You can probably guess from my introductory paragraph: Adam has raped Holly. Although he doesn’t think so, because this play is all about entitlement. It’s a hell of a performance from Alistair Donegan, based on a hell of a script from Camilla Whitehill, and the combination of the two creates a character who is likeable and charming and who manages to convince that he really didn’t do anything *that* wrong. The privilege here is shown so casually, entrenched into each sentence without rubbing the audience’s faces in it, that it does a pretty miraculous job of presenting how male superiority is quietly drilled into us all over time, while still managing to include some top quality jokes in it.
White male privilege is all around. To spot it, you just need to watch a woman try to use an armrest on the tube only to have that space usurped by a manspreader getting on the next stop (and of course more extreme examples in board rooms and governments, but the armrest thing happened to me on the way home from this show…). If only Mr Incredible had been brave enough to say that the way we allow this to happen is bad, and had the entrenchment of privilege alone be the force behind Adam’s assault.
Instead, he is given an excuse. Adam’s dad left when he was a kid, and this has left him emotionally a bit stunted. Sure, not all people abandoned by their parents go on to be rapists, but this play uses it as a device to generate sympathy for Adam and give a reason as to why he might commit an atrocity against a woman he claimed to love. He was damaged by his relationship with his father and so he passes the damage on.
But this doesn’t need it, because most of the script is confident and subtle enough for us to feel his sense of entitlement to Holly’s life and to her body; to give the character reasoning and to generate sympathy is to make this feel like an isolated incident, rather than something that happens day in, day out, up and down the country and around the world. If it had not made these excuses, it would have gotten a much bigger clap.
SIDE NOTE: I would like to call a ban on using the ‘unwanted pregnancy’ plotline for the next year. Contraception is widely available and I don’t know why so many theatre-makers seem to think women are incapable of properly using it, because this is so constantly thrown up to offer a “plot” complication for a young woman (apparently The End of Longing, which just opened, falls on this, too). Sure, accidents happen, but not this fucking often. Women have more problems, more complications and more going on than this, and I’d really like it if theatre would stop trying to present the idea that my role in life is to pump out offspring – whether I intend it that way or not.
I saw Mr Incredible at Vaults Festival, while the show was in previews. I paid for the ticket; it wasn’t a press comp (this is the case for everything on this blog, but I am adding a note onto this particular review because of Edinburgh Fringe related reasons – these reasons are similar to the ones outlined in Andrew Haydon’s Not-A-Review of Gym Party).