This review was originally written for A Younger Theatre
In 2014, a video uploaded onto Youtube, secretly filmed from a rucksack, showed clips of a woman in jeans and a crew-neck walking the streets of New York City for ten hours straight. In it, the woman is frequently catcalled, regularly told to ‘smile’, and even followed, without doing a thing to encourage such behaviour. The video went viral – current views top 42 million, and brought the problem of street harassment to the forefront of public consciousness once again.
Now, Doll’s Eye Theatre have brought the debate to Islington’s King’s Head Theatre. Their devised piece, Might Never Happen, is an unapologetically frank examination of street harassment that wears its heart on its sleeve throughout, but always steers clear of didacticism. It has an agenda, of course, and the clarity with which it ticks off the points it wants to make feels a little systematic at times, but it is nonetheless a sobering, vitally important piece of theatre.
In a series of brief scenes, a spectrum of opinions, arguments and experiences are presented. They range from a spotlighted office worker gabbling her explanation for throwing a potted plant at a colleague’s head, to a conversation between boyfriend and girlfriend about complimenting women, from a Loose Women-style chat show, to an extended altercation in a night club. There is fine work from Ashley Sean Cook and Kirsty Osman, and Amy Ewbank directs astutely.
First and foremost, Might Never Happen makes the psychological impact harassment can have on a woman unequivocally clear. Whether it is Osman’s office worker, neurotically worrying about the symmetry of her face and feeling ashamed to cry over her grandmother’s death, or whether it is Vicki Wells’ party-goer, cowering from the unwanted advances of a persistent stranger, the obvious distress, the obvious trauma, is galling to observe.
But there is a pragmatic, unbiased discussion here as well. It is first clumsily aired through a contrived argument between boyfriend (Paul Matenia) and girlfriend (Danielle Nott) over whether complimenting a stranger’s appearance is ever acceptable, then explored more eloquently in the satirical chat show sketch, in which Osman’s dissenting feminist voice is drowned out by Catherine Deevey’s laugh-seeking Katie Hopkins apologist one, and in an impassioned plea from Cook, in which he begs to be told what he can do to improve things.
No-one can, or should, dispute that street harassment is a subject long overlooked by politicians and legislators alike, and it’s true anything that gets people discussing it is praiseworthy, but part of me wishes Might Never Happen took the debate further before leaving us to thrash it out over the dinner table. It powerfully presents the symptoms of this disease – one scene in which Cook describes the belittling experience of being objectified by a woman is a particularly effective device – and it brings in other, related topics neatly: the role of twenty-first century feminism, the crass insensibility of the ‘men-will-be-men’ brigade, and even the current ‘crisis’ in male identity. But it leaves matters somewhat open-ended.
Perhaps as a man, I am preconditioned to demand directions that do not exist, but speaking as someone infinitely sympathetic with any victim of harassment, but also stand-offishly wary of saying entirely the wrong thing in pretty much any situation, part of me wished someone would answer Cook when he pleaded to be told what he could do to improve things. Might Never Happen doesn’t tell you what to think, or what to do; it just presents things as they are – endemic, dehumanising and shameful – and demands a response.