It’s a story far too many of us have heard/watched/experienced. Girl goes to party. Girl is sober/drunk/drugged. Girl doesn’t give consent/is assaulted/raped/filmed/all of the above. Boy is arrested/let off/sentenced/none/all of the above.
Eleanor Bishop’s Jane Doe, currently showing at Q Theatre, focuses on these shared narratives.
Using personal stories, text messages, media clips and trial transcripts, solo performer Karin McCracken presents the audience with a common story and its common lack of resolution.
Jane Doe is formed out of multiple parts. In the first Act McCracken has the audience giggling and nodding as she describes first kisses and references magical movie moments. It’s the following Acts that get darker. We listen as teenage rapists are defended and victims are doubted. We watch and relate as we hear stories of cat-calling and discomfort from real men and women.
Jane Doe is obviously about a pretty heavy subject, thus it feels a bit weird to comment on the theatrical aspects of it. But you know, this is a review, so it’d also be weird not to. Set on a rather bare stage with three microphones and a projector screen, the staging of Jane Doe is pretty darn effective. McCracken flickers across this space throughout the show, showcasing her acting chops when she voices the film of strangers on the screen behind her as they answer questions about sex and their personal experiences.
The most effective element of Jane Doe has got to be the audience participants. Towards the start of the show McCracken asks for multiple volunteers to play various characters in a rape trial transcript. The effect is rather harrowing as voices crack and pauses elongate during the more touchy statements about what, where, how.
An element of the show that I wish was used more is the live responses. Audience members are given wifi access and an online poll URL. At different points throughout the play we’re asked to anonymously comment how we’re feeling, check in if you will. Undoubtedly a cool concept, I think the general response was a bit lacking during my showing. We all felt a bit sad, there wasn’t much more to say.
This brings me to my final point, as amazing as Jane Doe is; I always wonder if emotionally charged shows like these achieve their desired outcome. The topics Jane Doe explores are confronting and incredibly important to talk about, but the audience who would most benefit most from these discussions may be unlikely to attend.
I left Jane Doe thinking I would love to see it tour colleges throughout New Zealand - I know my friends and I could have used a discussion like that in high school – to reach beyond the Auckland theatre-going crowd. And to be fair, from checking out the Jane Doe website, they are clearly already working along this track – having toured many American universities during 2016.
Featuring impressive tact and dramatic skill Jane Doe manages to be both an engaging theatre show and an important exploration of a delicate topic. The type of show made for touring, I hope as many people see Jane Doe as possible.
Jane Doe’s current season runs until June 17th at Q Theatre. Tickets are available here.
This show is part of a Fringe fundraising season. Zanetti Productions is taking three shows to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Jane Doe, Power Ballad (also on at Basement Theatre until June 17) and The Road That Wasn't There (July, Herald Theatre). They would love your support! Check out their website for more information - zanetti-productions.com.