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'Penetration': Questioning the Notion of Consent

Inspired by seven true stories of accusations and acquittals from 2014 to 2019, Penetration explores sexual assault and consent like never before, within a seemingly harmless encounter between two university students, Anna and Sean.

Anna has an older controlling boyfriend, James, who works at her university. They have a set of rules which enable them to hook up with others. However, Anna breaks them when she meets Sean, a fellow medical student. They drunkenly go back to her place after clubbing together, and the rest of the story is told through blurred recollections and hazy memories.

What starts off as a casual hookup leads to horror for all parties involved. Anna reports the encounter as sexual assault to the police and the case is never really resolved, even after three years. This leads to a number of questions, which the audience is left to answer for themselves. Was it really rape? What counts as consent? The play stays neutral throughout the story, portraying both Anna and Sean's perspectives with an equal weighting. Though it seems that everyone, whether it be the audience or the writer, can agree that the consequences of reporting this case have been heavier than the assault itself. Towards the end of the play, Anna is desperate to close the case out of regret. External factors, such as the judicial system and social media's cancel culture - which the writer inherently criticises - plays a greater part in tragic consequences within Penetration.

The audience's close proximity to the stage brought them closer to the character's emotions and boldened the writer's messages. However, there were some aspects of Penetration that were disappointing. Whilst Anna's constant distressed voice increased her vulnerability, sometimes it felt a little exaggerated and two-dimensional, contributing to the lack of complexity in her character. Furthermore, the play's use of social media felt unnatural, both in terms of its contents and delivery. Anna posts her thoughts and experiences onto a support Facebook group and speakers from all sides of the room blasts out the comments in a regional accent. These scenes felt out of place from the rest of the play due to awkward dialogue and the stage's odd lighting. It is not uncommon to see unrealistic representations of social media use in plays, films and shows. That being said, it would have been satisfying to see an accurate portrayal in a play about university students.

Nevertheless, Penetration is an excellent execution of tackling difficult situations and social issues in the form of an intimate play. It exhibits mysteries, grey areas and deadly consequences. The audience is able to have a heartfelt conversation with another concerning 'taboo' topics that young people, especially women, struggle to talk about. Penetration challenges the notion of consent through blurred boundaries in real-life examples, and it was a particularly powerful watch for a university student.


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