Review: Always Right There
Character A - Lucy Dobson
Character B - Hannah Powell
Character C - Alex Reynolds
Character D - Leah Georges
Character E - Jenna Fincken
Spin instructor - Imani Jade Powers
Set between two friends' cramped flatshare and London's poshest spin studio, Always Right There takes you for a spin through five twenty-something women's Lists.
Those lists we all subconsciously keep of instances of sexual harassment or abuse that aren't really "bad enough" to warrant talking about, let alone reporting.
In a blur of neon and lycra, with the help of a peppy instructor, the characters try and sweat out the memory of a sleazy French policeman, being slut-shamed by your own granddad, or a grim childhood encounter with a stranger's erection.
Back at the flat, two friends talk over everything else: from online dating, yoga and avocadoes, to paedophilia, disturbing sexual fantasies and Instagram porn ...
A: How was your Tinder date last night?
B: Frustrating. He's very charismatic in that sort of went-to-Eton, raised-by-women, thick jumper way
A: I love a thick jumper on a man
B: There's something instantly calming about a man who admits it's cold. Anyway we talked about false dichotomies and the crisis of masculinity then he said he had to go. Why wouldn't you just stay out when the option of sex is clearly on the table?
A: He sounds like a dick. He probably lives in Clapham with his mousy girlfriend who is heavily into Cath Kidston
In the wake of #metoo, Always Right There welcomes you through dilated pores into that space just under the skin where women store what ultimately becomes a tolerable, but pungent, disgust with their own bodies.
All to a banging playlist.
There's a split-screen feel to Natalia Rossetti's play that describes the disturbing issue of sexual harassment and features an all-female cast.
On one side of the set we find a room in a flat shared by two characters whose names we never learn.
On the other side of the stage we discover a 'spin studio' - a fitness emporium that utilises exercise cycles.
In the spin studio, the young women we meet are bombarded by loud, thumping music which provides the necessary beat for their cycling actions, and an almost maniacal coach cries out instructions, encouraging her clients in their fitness-seeking endeavours.
The play ping-pongs back and forth between scenes in the flatshare and others in the exercise studio.
In the flatshare we hear what might be described as fairly typical conversations between twenty-something women.
Online dating, the foibles of men, the concept that avocado "plumps the epidermis", the notion that marriage involves a bride "signing away her dignity and independence" and Sanskrit tattoos are just some snippets from the conversations we tune into.
Much of the banter between the two flatmates is richly amusing and we find human beings with their own imperfections, prejudices, desires and motivations.
These interludes in the flatshare are contrasted with alternating scenes in the spin studio where each of the characters in turn relate acts of sexual harassment or abuse they have been subjected to by men.
Most of the stories reveal harassment that is not serious enough to warrant reporting, though one of the acts certainly seemed to be an actual assault deserving criminal proceedings.
The various acts we hear about range from casually delivered but hugely offensive remarks, through theft of underwear to a man masturbating in public next to a young woman.
It's lurid, wince-inducing stuff that for a man makes very uncomfortable viewing, but seems typical of the grossly demeaning treatment that women sadly have to face on a regular basis in our supposedly civilised society.
Though it needs to be said that not all men behave in these unacceptable ways, the play makes it clear that sexual harassment and abuse in its many guises is still widespread and commonplace.
An engaging and talented cast provide nicely-judged, watchable performances all-round, with Imani Jade Powers providing an indefatigable, bouncy coach rousing her clients to even greater efforts, but with her own grossly unpleasant experience of abuse to convey.
Excellent though it is in many respects, the play began to feel stretched just before the final round of scenes from each location.
It had already made its points clearly and effectively by then, and a final iteration seemed to add relatively little suggesting that some judicious pruning would lose nothing in terms of potency and might even enhance the piece through focused economy.
On another negative note, the dialogue in the spin studio was sometimes overpowered by the loud, pulsating music, and in one particular scene the conversation was inaudible.
Those points aside, this is a cleverly-written, humorous and intelligent play that makes an important contribution in highlighting intolerable harassment, and demanding radical shifts in behaviour from a significant section of the male population.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for RADA
Our show listing for Always Right There
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