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Mark Shenton: How should we deal with the fallout of sexual harassment allegations?

Kevin Spacey. Photo: Shutterstock Kevin Spacey. Photo: Shutterstock
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We have reached a crossroads in the ongoing harassment scandal. When discussing abuse allegations, it’s important to reiterate that Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have yet to be charged with any formal offences.

Many alleged perpetrators have already been found guilty in the court of public opinion and there have been professional consequences for them. Spacey, for instance, has been entirely edited out of new Ridley Scott film All the Money in the World. His scenes have been reshot with Christopher Plummer instead.

One actor’s downfall is another’s opportunity: as Plummer recently told Entertainment Weekly: “I’m very saddened by what happened to Kevin, but what can I do? I’ve got a role. I admire Ridley Scott and I’m thrilled to be making a movie for him. And so I thought, that was it. Ages ago I was in contention for [the role], way back. So I was familiar with it. Then Ridley came to me and I agreed. I wanted to work with him. He’s very good. I loved the script. The script is wonderful.”

In a piece for the Times, Libby Purves – whose first instinct on Twitter when the accusations against Spacey surfaced was to defend him and admire his honesty in finally coming out as gay – said: “The hysteria that butchers a finished film and shrieks ‘strip him of his Olivier!’ is not, so far, proportionate. If there are criminal proceedings and a safe conviction, so be it.” But she also wonders if some of his behaviour is a consequence of the entrenched homophobia of Hollywood, which makes Spacey himself a potential victim.

As she puts it: “Amid the furore about Kevin Spacey, I tried a thought experiment: looking at the sorry business from a wider angle, even beyond the three decades during which he is alleged to have groped or propositioned dismayed men (at least two under 18). I wanted to reflect on what my ‘straight’ world has done and denied to homosexuals. I want to acknowledge how necessary deceit and internalised shame can sour and skew a character. I also want to offer the unpopular reflection that while all abusive sexual behaviour is reprehensible, the needy gropings of men damaged by centuries of stigma might just be more explicable (though not excusable) than the behaviour of heterosexual men who still treat women as toys and think they’re ladykillers or romantics.”

Two people recently accused of doing just that were former artistic directors Max Stafford-Clark (who was at London’s Royal Court) and Michael Colgan (of Dublin’s Gate Theatre). Stafford-Clark has partly attributed his actions to disinhibition that followed a stroke, but others have come forward to say this behaviour long preceded it. Colgan, apologising for his own “misjudged behaviour” put it down to blurring the boundaries “between my work and my life”.

But it was interesting to read another defence the other day for Colgan. Writing in the Guardian, Emer O’Toole said: “I worked at the bar in the Gate for two years and I just loved Colgan. The women who have spoken to the Irish media tell tales of his hand eternally resting uncomfortably on their lower backs, ever at risk of sliding towards their bottoms. I am not surprised by these allegations, because that kind of behaviour was absolutely characteristic of boozy opening nights at the Gate. I don’t think that anyone who has worked at the theatre could honestly say they were surprised. Yet Colgan was exceptionally kind to me. And I suppose that this is one way abusers keep their power in place: by bestowing kindness and favour on some women, building up networks of affection and loyalty, while bullying and harassing others. I’m not saying this is an intentional strategy, it’s more like the messy human aspect of it all.”

She adds, “I don’t want to mitigate the impact of misogynistic abuse here; rather, I’m trying to trace the emotional architecture of patriarchy. I never stopped to consider that Weinstein was probably genuinely lovely to lots of women. I scoffed at Lindsay Lohan saying she feels sad for Weinstein. Colgan hasn’t been accused of anything that equates with Weinstein. But I do feel sad for him, even if he’s getting a comeuppance he deserves.”

And here O’Toole adds the complicating factor: “Are we really going to look at a man who gave us a hand up and kick him when he’s down?”

Right now there are all sorts of accusations flying around about plenty of people working in the theatre. Earlier this week, a theatre blogger tweeted to call for a boycott for the press night of a show being directed by one of those currently being accused. But do all those actors deserve to be cast into the professional wilderness for a production they all joined and rehearsed in good faith, because their director is now facing allegations?

Click for all The Stage’s coverage of harassment in the theatre industry and advice on who to contact if you or someone you know has been a victim.