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Review: Actually, at Trafalgar Studios

22 August, 2019 — By Sipora Levy

Yasmin Paige and Simon Manyonda in Actually

ANNA Ziegler’s play was the much-admired Photograph 51, starring Nicole Kidman, about Rosalind Franklin, whose contribution to the discovery of DNA was written out of history.

Actually is a less starry but equally important two-hander, about the controversial area of sexual consent, and how it affects two American undergraduates at Princeton.

Amber (Yasmin Paige) is naive, gawky and determined to throw off the shackles of her traditional Jewish background. She is immediately drawn to Tom (Simon Manyonda), a good-looking, outwardly confident piano student. He is from a deprived background, charismatic but also wary of being black in a privileged, predominantly white environment.

They spend a drunken night together and, in the cold light of day, there is much confusion about whether Amber actually consented to what happened between them. She accuses him of rape and requests a sexual misconduct hearing. Ziegler cleverly weaves information about the date, their earlier experiences, the hearing and the resulting emotional impact.

While we learn more about Tom’s background than Amber’s, they are both believable, sympathetic characters. Paige and Manyonda are terrific in communicating their confusion, doubts and fears as well as youthful exuberance and longing.

If you are looking for clear-cut answers to a thorny question you may be disappointed. However, this is a provocative and intelligent play about the need for connection and how difficult empathetic communication can be. What happened that drunken night has huge repercussions on them both and it is sadly all too believable.

In the programme notes Ziegler asks us to “consider whether good people can make bad mistakes”.

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