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Actually review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘poses more questions than it answers’

Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda in Actually Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda in Actually

Describing what happens after a drunken one-night stand between two first-year students at an Ivy League university, Anna Ziegler’s Actually assesses the impact on both sides when a rape accusation is made.

This knotty play combines flashbacks to the night in question with scenes from the subsequent college hearing to decide whether regulations on consent have been violated. The weight of probability required to reach a verdict is “50% plus a feather”.

African-American Tom (Simon Manyonda) is outwardly confident, a gifted pianist with a reputation for sleeping around. In contrast, Yasmin Paige’s Amber is shy and Jewish, over-compensating for nerves with chatter and highly self-analytical. Though their backgrounds could not be more different, they share a lingering fear for their own existence in US society.

It’s a scrupulously even-handed piece that tackles race and gender politics as well as privilege. Manyonda and Paige’s characters are fluid and earnest: though they agree about the drinking and the initial attraction, they disagree when it comes to what happened in bed. Painfully aware of the issues at stake, they are frustrated by a lack of resolution. They seek to present themselves in a good light while wincing at text messages read out loud.

Cindy Lin’s spare, exposed staging suits the piece’s confessional nature. There’s a sense of repeatedly, possibly fruitlessly, returning to the same place as the audience ponders what really happened.

In the end, Actually throws up more questions than it answers. It seems less focused on consent itself than institutions’ fumbling attempts to arbitrate in cases like these – and our inability to be honest about our own memories and intentions.

Dark Sublime review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘endearing if overstretched play about fandom and friendship’

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Verdict
Thought-provoking portrayal of the fallout from a college rape allegation that poses more questions than it answers
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