The Trial

The setting for Trial is Bolton Council Chamber, which immediately creates a sense of legal formality. The play weaves four short plays, written by the four performers, around a verbatim transcript of a woman giving evidence at a trial against a teacher. It’s an effective premise that sets the scene for some complex issues around the extent to which women are believed, and the tools we use to search for the truth.

The verbatim scenes and two of the plays focus on how the cross-examination element of the legal process results in a tendency to not believe female accusers. The court system is designed to cast doubt, and replaces ‘I believe’ and ‘I think’ with demands for proof and facts, which may be wholly unsuitable in many cases. Eve Steele’s ‘Unreliable’ powerfully describes a woman’s fears at giving evidence against an uncle that abused her, balancing these against her fundamental need for justice. Sarah McDonald Hughes’ ‘Small Town’ tells of a young woman who is brought up to be independent, enjoys going out and drinking, yet has these used against her when she gives evidence against a man who has assaulted her. The line ‘he is not guilty and I am a liar’ sums up society’s inability to understand the complexities of the legal process.

The other two plays, although less effective, focus on how our society views women in the context of sex. Rosina Carbone’s ‘Astral Twin’ captures the way school boys use coercive behaviour to shame girls into having sex with them. Nisa Cole’s ‘Muck’ looks at the way a girl is trapped through her choices to become involved with an older man at a young age, and the impact on her education and life.

Throughout, there is a strong sense of time running through each of the stories. The way that men often groom young women at an early age, the immediate effects on these women, and then the destructive long-term consequences of his actions. Perhaps that’s what lingers most in the memory long after the play has finished, the way that the events that have been portrayed destroy lives forever, and how both our court system and society do little to help.

This is a play that raises many, many questions about the way we judge victims of sexual abuse and coercive behaviour, but offers no answers. These are very strong performances and the characters created are believable (there’s an irony) and complex.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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