Playwright Deirdre Kinahan writes for Culture about her latest work, Rathmines Road, currently playing on the Peacock Stage at The Abbey Theatre until 27th October.
It strikes me that Ireland is going through something of a reckoning at present. Recent referendums on civil liberties, tribunals into political ethics and corruption, inquiries into clerical and institutional abuse, all signal an enormous shift in Irish thinking. The iron grip of Catholicism and stifling absolutism of class and convention are beginning to dissipate, and to my mind that is a good thing. Unfortunately there are many areas in which we still fail and fail spectacularly.
In Rathmines Road, I want to explore our collective response to accusations of rape and sexual assault, and our complete failure judicially, socially and culturally, to negotiate the dreadful consequences of these crimes. So I decided to place a victim of sexual assault into a situation where he/she can confront that abuse in a public way and then watch each character shift and spin in the ways described by survivors. I wanted to try to feel what it is like to be blamed for inciting the very crime committed on you. What it is like to be constantly doubted. What it is like to be perpetually judged and labelled by that crime. What it is like to see your story, your truth and your dignity stolen from you by the people affected by that accusation – and how quickly the response becomes not about you but about them, and how your accusation affects them. I wanted to try to feel what it is like to disappear – disappear into an abyss where every social cultural and judicial reflex conspires to silence, to shame and to deny…YOU.
Watch: Meet the cast of Deirdre Kinahan's Rathmines Road
It was in writing the play that I began to understand how the failure of our response is often governed by gender and the cultural expectations associated with gender. Boys will be boys remember and good girls don’t get drunk or don’t go into bedrooms at parties unless they are willing to be sexually assaulted or raped. It sounds absurd. I have to say I have trouble even writing that sentence, but how many daytime-chat-show callers, opinion-column writers, neighbours, solicitors or indeed deluded bishops give air to the notion that a victim of sexual assault is in some way culpable – if not asking for it? It is extraordinary how control of the narrative of a crime is often removed from the person at the centre of it, then reshaped to fit the needs of those around them.
The perpetrator of sexual assault rarely admits their crime, rarely sees it and in most cases is never forced to answer for it. And so you will see how each character in Rathmines Road attempts to take control of the story and recreate it in some way to suit their sense of themselves. You will see how some characters lie, lie constantly, and lie first to themselves because the capacity for human denial never ceases to amaze me, particularly when backed up by silence. Silence sits at the heart of Rathmines Road because, unfortunately, silence remains the go-to response for survivors, their abusers and ourselves. Silence means we might not have to respond at all.
Rathmines Road by Deirdre Kinahan plays The Peacock stage at The Abbey Theatre until October 27th - more details here.