Alexandria Garrett, C on Chambers Street, Campus Rape Epidemic, Edinburgh Fringe, Justice, Lynda Radley, Michael John McCarthy, Pepperdine Scotland, Rape, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Sexual Assault, The Interference, Theatre Review
A young woman is raped on campus, so far as we can tell. She goes to the police, who are reluctant to investigate, a campus disciplinary panel, who expel her alleged attacker from the university, and a journalist, who publicises her story. It is the classic he-said-she-said to-and-fro, but only one side of the argument will be actually heard: the accuser’s. And herein lies the flaw with this irritating, complicated mess of a play.
Oh how one longs for more plebeian times, those days when our dramatists still wrote about fractious industrial disputes. Now, instead of trouble at t’ mill, every third student Fringe play seems to chronicle some bitter wrangle on campus, usually about censorship or sexual consent. The young working classes, by contrast, appear to lead lives which are blameless of injustice and controversy, in their idyllic workplace apprenticeships and agricultural colleges.
“The Interference” is currently showing at C on Chambers Street. It is the fruit of a Transatlantic collaboration between the Glasgow-based playwright Lynda Radley and an ensemble from California’s Pepperdine University, but the setting is studiously American. This story is in fact the accumulated vomit from a belly stuffed full of recent US campus rape controversies. Each detail is so recognisably topical that it should not sound so tired, so clichéd, but somehow it does.
There are ample case studies available today which warn against the practicability of “the worldwide University Campus Sexual Assault Epidemic” (to quote the play’s synopsis) as an article of faith. For every coven of witches, there is an Abigail Williams. The now-retracted Rolling Stone article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the fake allegations against the Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan, and the case of the rape-threat hoaxer Meg Lanker-Simons are just a few of the many false trumps of the campus apocalypse. If “The Interference” had weighed these examples in the balance, leaving enough nuance to disconcert each bigoted extreme on the spectrum, then the play might still possess some value as commentary. Instead, the neutrality on stage is purely cosmetic. Various complaints against victim culture and illiberal procedures are aired, only to be dead-headed by the play’s scything fact that he did it. Since, in numerous real-life cases, he didn’t, we do not really advance beyond the certainties of partisanship.
The cast is a kind of plasticine, out of which infinite characters can be formed and smoothed away again. They are a talented troupe and at times their skills are put to good use. There is one moment of disastrously misjudged levity, however, when the buffoonish Jerry (Parker Johnson) apparently confesses to being accused of rape himself, with a rueful grin, triggering laughter from the audience. We are, you know, supposed be taking the message seriously.
But what really is the message? The ordeal of Karen (Alexandria Garrett) is so unpleasant and unrewarding that “The Interference” ostensibly advises rape victims to keep everything to themselves. Perhaps the play is theorising that the system, or the campus culture, should be more supportive of such women, but the accused is kicked out of college on the basis of no actual evidence, so the status quo is surely accommodating enough. Meanwhile, the complaints about the repulsiveness of victim politics are not altogether water off the duck’s back. Her celebrity is inevitable, but Karen nonetheless robes herself in self-conscious victimhood and dedicates her life to the struggle, as if she has been elected pope. The machinery around her is vast and baroque. It becomes a monumental religion of Me, with worshippers, disciples, disbelievers, heretics, solemnity and festivity.