Jack Thorne’s STACY examines the topic of sexual assault in an unconventional manner. It is a one-man play, and we hear all the vile details of the crime from the man who committed it: the seemingly ordinary call centre worker Rob. The audience are placed into an uncomfortable position. Naturally inclined to sympathise with the victim, we are challenged instead to listen to the rapist.
John Broadhead makes for a convincing Rob. His performance is assured yet suitably restless; he fidgets, paces around a mattress, and re-positions his sex dolls. Certainly, he would have good reason to be nervous – monologuing for over an hour is no easy feat, particularly not when the subject matter calls for such intensity and range of emotion. What in another play, however, might have seemed like nervous and at times halting acting is here vital for the portrayal of a man struggling to make sense of his actions. Broadhead is seamless, and though he knows his lines, his performance never seems overly rehearsed. Authenticity is key for a play that asks an audience to understand a character who has committed such an unspeakable act.
Broadhead is equally convincing as the bolshy Rob we meet at the beginning, who believes that many of his problems stem from the fact that he was ‘a beautiful child,’ and as a man plagued by remorse. He is at his strongest in his cathartic episodes of confession, and his breakdown towards the end of the performance does not feel exaggerated.
The subject matters are not glamorous, and fittingly, neither is the set. It is a minimal production, but Broadhead requires little aid. In fact, the tech occasionally disrupts his performance – there are no other actors, but we hear the monotone voices of other characters. While the prescription that STACY should be a one-man play is a little limiting, and the tech fills in, the pauses between Broadhead’s speech and these audio clips disturb what is otherwise a well-paced performance.
Staged in a small room in Alington House, the production is near-stifling. The audience are forced into an intimacy with Rob that later becomes uncomfortable – while at the beginning of the play, we feel quite at ease as he relates light-hearted anecdotes about his childhood and women he has met, his later confession challenges our empathies. What is striking is that Rob is still occasionally comic, and yet it feels wrong to laugh.
This is precisely the moral dilemma that the play presents an audience with, forcing us to engage with the darker aspects of ourselves and those we are closest to. Rob is not easy to hate, and when he sits down between two audience members the implication is clear: the perpetrators of sexual assault are not as distant nor as unfamiliar as we might like to convince ourselves. There is perhaps no place this message is more relevant than a university.
At a time when sexual assault is often in the headlines, STACY is a powerful and politically charged play. An audience of students are likely to relate to its themes of confusion, anxiety and even guilt surrounding not only sex, but identity. STACY encourages us to engage with the questions we would perhaps rather ignore, and while not a comfortable watch, it is a necessary one.