Tuesday, November 12, 2019

This Sh*t Happens All the Time – deeply personal story of love, menace and taking back control (Outburst Arts Festival) #outburst19

I recently wrote about the joy of rehearsed readings of new theatre scripts, and the imaginative freedom their lack of set brings.

Last night’s sold out performance of This Sh*t Happens All the Time as part of Outburst Arts Festival was no exception. Nicky Harley brought to life Amanda Verlaque’s autobiographical monologue about a young woman going up to university in Belfast, falling in love, and receiving a death threat for her trouble.
“He said he’d kill me.”

It’s the early 1990s, and while I was happily learning to code Modula 2 in the QUB Drill Hall and eating sausage rolls in the Beech Room, the central character of this play was rolling with the verbal punches as she dodged slurs about her sexuality and tried to avoid getting a hiding.

Harley stands behind her lectern with the confidence of a newly announced Doctor Who, dressed with a magnificently collared dark suit, a polka dot blouse and a cowboy cravat. It’s a crisp costume that tells the audience she has something to say that we need to hear.

She guides us into Amanda’s world, and we chuckle at her “ill-configured gaydar” and observation that “a short haircut and a pair of dungarees does not a dyke make”. We play along with term after term of tentative flirting with an older female student before a lusty dinner in Smokey Joe’s – I remember those chips fondly – and new love blossoms … chilled only by the emergence of a third, sinister figure in what was intended only to be a strict ménage à deux.

It’s a tale about what seems too good to be true, a short story about jealousy and menace, about the abusive power of a man to shake a young woman’s confidence in everything she wants to achieve at university, about the silence that accompanies not being able to report a homophobic crime that won’t be recognised by the criminal justice system for another couple of decades.

Harley brings the soaring ending to life, owning the reversal of power, the switch from vulnerability to assert her control over the bully. The reaction of the young student’s tutor seals the story. Victory, but at such a price.

That this tale should have happened in order to be told now is appalling and a shame on a that generation. That this tale is still happening in the lives of other women is equally appalling and shame upon our generation. That violence against lesbians is still an issue is just one reason for Outburst Queer Arts Festival to speak out and speak loud at this time of year.

Directed by Paula McFetridge, This Sh*t Happens All the Time was written by Amanda Verlaque and performed by Nicky Harley in The Black Box. Check out my previous post to see my picks from the full Outburst programme which runs until Saturday 16 November.

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