“The Culture” @ Erskineville Town Hall. Sydney Arts Guide. 28 Sept 2015.
There are a myriad of reasons why I want to live a long time and tonight a theatre piece has brought one of these screaming into sharp relief. I want to live in a future when the audience of THE CULTURE is coming to see a period drama. When themes of street harassment, domestic violence and homophobia are akin to watching the Ancient Greeks perform for the glory of Dionysus. Entertaining but irrelevant.
There are two theatrical throughlines to THE CULTURE. One is appealing to the intellect … information, anecdotes, quotes, facts and figures … all presented in a thought provoking, character based way. The other’s appeal is to the emotions.
Will and Katie are besties, have been since school and now they are flat mates. Will has always known he was gay and even took Katie to the prom as his beard. Katie went through a stage of drinking too many shots and ending up in too many strange boys’ beds. She’s wised up since then and they enjoy hitting the bars together, even though Will would rather stay at home with internet dating apps. They support each other when street harassment, sexist or homophobic behaviour threaten their night out.
THE CULTURE tackles the 3 themes head on, no apologies, no pussy footing or niceties. But once again Jackson has crafted a show which begins with fun and humour, almost imperceptively transmuting into to the despondency and sadness which we take with us from the theatre. There is no didacticism here and her previous work, HANDLE IT, showed the same lightness of touch in the scripting.
Aided by Director Janys Hayes, Dramaturg Louise McIntosh and Brandon Wong who designed the projected Facebook posts etc , Jackson places the characters in situations which open debate rather than solve the problems. Why DO harassers do what they do? Why does empathetic and compassionate Will not care if the woman walking ahead of him is afraid? Why does strong, self-contained Katie allow the unthinkable to happen? Cleverly, as developing artist, Jackson surrounds herself with solid collaborators to give the production just this right balance .
This includes Michael Blakeley as Will. THE CULTURE is a two hander and they have powerful chemistry and real rapport. Though scripted, the dialogue is free flowing and natural. The 1 hour show has quite a few scenes, each with varying intent, circumstances and emotion and Jackson and Blakely come out of each blackout fully present. There is some terrific, if scary, physical acting and in the intimate space we have the rare opportunity to see the detail of the work, almost at a filmic level. Their belief and our suspension of belief never falters.
Unfortunately, the show has finished its run at the Sydney Fringe but it will be back I’m sure before the themes become archaic concepts. Seek it out, get on Jackson’s mailing list. It’s great theatre, great education and a great opportunity to see a 3rd wave Feminist in full cry.
And what will Jackson do when these irrelevant themes no longer need bringing to audiences? A multi-talented artist like this can do almost anything and I’m planning on living long enough to enjoy her long, long career. THE CULTURE played at the Erskineville Town Hall for the Sydney Fringe.
“Handle It” at The Street Theatre. Barefoot Review. 15 Mar 2015.
March is the month that the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but also stops to reflect on the intractable issues that most affect them. Handle It brings some of the most pressing matters affecting young women to centre stage through a fearless one-woman show.
Through a multitude of complex characters that share a connecting storyline, Laura Jackson explores the themes of sexual violence, the misuse and abuse of social media and the damaging social effects of hard-core porn – boldly going where few dare to go.
Handle It plays sleuth to the mystery of fictional teenager Kelsey Armitage, whose night out on the town results in a tragic cascade of events. Compromising pictures of her begin to surface on the internet, while it also becomes clear a sexual assault has taken place – though it’s becoming increasingly unclear if the two are linked.
What I love about this play is that it deftly uses every opportunity possible to inject a meaningful conversation about the issues at hand. Via incredibly illuminating monologues, Jackson gives voice to the traumas women experience every day and confronts the prevailing attitudes that perpetuate them.
The precise timing of the content on the projection screen backdrop (by Brandon Wong) is also crucial to the production. It acts as a giant laptop, exemplifying in ruinous detail the process of Kelsey’s photos ‘going viral’ when they fall into the wrong hands, but also the public conversations taking place around the incident.
Jackson is a magnetic performer and a masterful chameleon, both skillfully crafting and representing a diverse and compelling cast of personalities. There is a staggering amount of depth to each character, and it is quite obvious that a great deal of care went into ensuring their authenticity.
Handle It is a provocative, no holds barred commentary that deconstructs some of the more troubling developments to emerge from our digital age, while using just enough humour to take the edge of the intensity. It’s a fulfilling experience that gives you plenty to consider, without dictating any particular conclusion. For me, this is theatre at its best.
Theatre Review: Handle It, Lip Magazine. 16 March 2015
To have revealing photos uploaded onto social media without consent is a fear of many women and a nightmarish reality for more than you would imagine. This is the premise for Handle It, a one-woman play that showed at The Street Theatre from March 13-16. Kelsey, a ‘naïve’ first year university student wakes up after a big night out to find that naked images have spread like wildfire across the internet after being uploaded on Facebook without her consent. The story is further complicated when it is revealed early on that Kelsey has also been sexually assaulted and, not surprisingly, a torrent of vicious abuse and victim blaming by men on the internet and public commentators is unleashed.
Written, performed by Laura Jackson, Handle It is a very topical play that asks important questions: are women safe online? Why are we deemed responsible when our sexuality and bodies are exploited and ‘shared’ without our consent? Why do people behave so badly on the internet? And most importantly: if it happened to us, could we ‘handle it’? Should we have to?
As a play designed to provoke thoughts and spark conversation, Handle It is very effective and Jackson’s passion and commitment to making the internet a safer space for women is to be celebrated. This commitment extended to a short Q+A with the audience after the production ended, which was both enlightening and re-affirming: people care about this issue, and they want to help. Jackson is fantastic in a multitude of different characters and showcases her confidence and versatility as a performer.
Handle It’s set was simple yet effective, with particularly good use of projections, which enabled the depiction of online activity, and also very cleverly introduced two recurring characters who’s role played out completely ‘online’. I also particularly liked Jackson’s deliberate choice to tell the story from everyone’s point of view but the victims, which not only mirrored the way these cases are dealt with in reality, but forced this fact squarely into the audience’s consciousness, forcing us to think hard about what we would have done.
Handle It is a production that needs to be taken everywhere, and shown to everyone. As one audience member said at the end, it is particularly needed in schools, youth centre’s and anywhere else young people will see it. Handle It is the best thing I have seen so far this year and the rave reviews Jackson has been receiving are well deserved.
Handle It is Absorbing and Disturbing. Canberra Times. March 16, 2015.
Handle It is an unsettling one-woman piece that looks hard at the downside of the internet. Pictures of university student Kelsey Armitage appear on Facebook without her consent, after a night that involves drugs and drink and sexual assault. The pictures multiply and it is a battle to try to have them removed.
In a series of short scenes Handle It examines what happens to Kelsey and the unsettling ways in which social media can alter social discourse and relationships. The social media plays out largely on an overhead screen while Jackson uses a range of characters to look at the event from differing points of view. The audience looks at the conversations developing online on that screen, giving the performer a chance to change for the next character.
Some of them are there as commentators. Some of them have a direct involvement in what happened to Kelsey. There's the unpleasant uncaring boyfriend, the Q&A sexologist panelist who flamboyantly supports the internet's place in sexuality, the policewoman who is trying to establish what happened to Kelsey, a somewhat disorganised lawyer, Kelsey's deeply concerned older sister and Kelsey herself, traumatised by events. There's also a younger stepsister who has a troubling story to tell.
Jackson varies the playing and carries off the characters well. The vignettes stay short and intense enough to make some powerful points about sexual politics and the way the internet allows a sordid flourishing. Seeing some of the conversations play out in real time on the screen reminds, however, that there is also potential on line for proper and necessary discussion of the issues.
The edge of didacticism is muted by the chilling exploration of a dramatic twist involving someone who sees protecting a perpetrator as the only way of surviving dire family circumstances.
With director Janys Hayes, Jackson has certainly created a piece that can both inform and stimulate discussion about the uses to which social media can be put and the responsibilities that need to apply. That would include, as was the case on opening night, some post-show discussion. It's absorbing and disturbing stuff in both writing and performance and it might have been good to see a longer season with a range of audiences.
Handle it – Street Theatre March 13-15, 2015. Canberra Critics Circle.
Handle It is a gutsy and engaging piece of theatre that sets out to tell the story of a young woman whose life is turned upside down when compromising pictures of her are posted on Facebook. The subject matter is sensitive and topical and the show provokes thought and conversation. The story unfolds as a series of monologues delivered by one performer as seven different characters; the last to appear is the victim herself.
Jackson is a brave and committed performer who identifies as a feminist.
During Jackson's lightning quick changes between characters, social media feeds were projected on stage. The projections allowed us to eavesdrop on personal messages and newsfeeds of peripheral characters, and to watch the all-too-believable viral spread of the compromising photos.
Jackson is a young writer and performer with passion, conviction and skill. The production was of a high quality in design and execution. I look forward to seeing more of Jackson's work as she refines her craft.
"Handle It" Review 22nd March 2015
For many of us we’ve now had about twenty years of internet experience. The changes it has made to our daily lives have been extraordinary through the wealth of information instantly available when we want it, on-line purchasing and the ease of communication with friends and family through email, Skype and social networking programs like Facebook. But there’s a darker side to social networking which is chillingly explored in Laura Jackson’s one woman play, ‘Handle It’.
The play details the experience of a young woman at university when compromising pictures of her appear on Facebook. We also see the impact on other people as judgements are made and actions are taken. It’s confronting and thought-provoking and it’s also good theatre.
Writer and performer, Laura Jackson, has produced a strong script with some good characters and excellent links between scenes with computer projections that progress the story. She also performs all seven characters in the show, six of whom are women and one is male. Characters were finely written and played extremely well. Director, Janys Hayes, has staged the show simply on a bare stage with minimal props and furniture. Each character has their own acting space which gives good visual variation as the play progresses. The computer images have been well-designed to clearly demonstrate how easily you can lose control of a situation when using programs like Facebook. Good lighting and sound complements the setting and action.
Anyone assuming they’ll just see a biased, strongly feminist view in this work will be surprised to find that some of the female characters are unsympathetic and unhelpful, making judgments that are hurtful and ignorant as well as just plain dangerous. What appears to be a straight forward case of abuse using Facebook turns into an ever-deepening mystery that is quite absorbing. It raises some pretty uncomfortable issues about human nature as well as about a technology moving too fast for most of us to keep up with.
Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ showbiz program with Bill Stephens on Sunday 22 March 2015 from 5pm.
"Handle It". Bakehouse Theatre. The Clothes Line. February 18
Laura Jackson has done a good job of writing and presenting a solo performance with the apparent primary intention of focusing on the role of social media in the lives of Generation Y. Facebook in particular, for good or ill, serves up a running commentary on people’s lives, and has the power to destroy their reputations. Screening a Facebook newsfeed on the back wall of the stage is a clever device that allows the audience to view the commentary on some promiscuous images of a one night stand that have gone viral, while affording Jackson time for costume changes. She plays six different characters. Her portrayal of the male revelling in the glory of his one night stand the following day is well, er – very male! She has just the right amount of cocky swagger! Her most convincing performance was of the 16-year-old girl who goes to the police to tell the darker truth about what really happened on the night of the one night stand. Everyone knows these days how damaging Facebook can be, but Handle It cleverly demonstrates that while Facebook can be a problem in people’s lives where your every fault becomes fodder for an ongoing conversation among your peers, it is often things much closer to home that having nothing to do with social media that present greater dangers. Acting out the parts of six characters is a challenging task for any performer, and some of these characters will get better as Jackson has more time to make them more defined and feel more comfortable with them, but the basic premise of this play is an intriguing one, with a story worth the telling.
Handle It Adelaide Fringe Review, The Advertiser. Feb 17.
The perils of social media, beginning with an apparent revenge posting of explicit photographs, underpin Sydney actor Laura Jackson’s insightful tale about a young woman’s tragic experience.
The seven widely divergent characters that appear in a dense 60 minutes are a reminder of just how deep the impact of internet trolling, in all its horrible variety, can be. Scene changes are well-covered with video footage showing the social media exchanges.
An ingenious twist is carefully timed and drew a couple of gasps from a pin-drop silent audience. Tightly directed by Janys Hayes, Handle It is well-paced.
"Handle It @ The Imperial" Sydney Arts Guide, Dec 12th 2014
It’s not often that I covet wealth but tonight I wish I had a secret stash . I attended a fundraising night for UN Women. 50% of the takings are going to Beijing +20 which aspires to a world with gender equality. It would be great to have a bit extra to give them. Also, as part of the night, I encountered a writer and performer who rose above her surroundings to present a theatre piece of power and relevance. The sort of artist who could also do with some financial support.
The evening was introduced by Brooke Clark, one of the organizers, who spoke about gender stereotypes in her non-urban childhood environment. Her choices were hairdresser or beauty technician. Her eventual choice was to move to a more inclusive environment in the city. Next was theatre director and playwright, Augusta Supple, who discussed social media’s way of rushing people to judgement. “I like this.” And how young women can be validated quickly for posting gender stereotypical pictures, leaving them with no mechanism to understand feeling shit.
The final speaker was the always mesmerising Tracey Spicer. As a junior reporter she was told it straight … you won’t succeed as a TV journalist because viewers think blondes are dumb. Later told to stick her tits out more and she was too shocked to speak back. She now speaks out loudly and clearly on social justice, women ’s rights, and equal opportunity. Ms Spicer graphically explored the link between incidences of everyday oppression with the cultural and institutionalised harassment in some non-Western societies. “If you attend an event like this, everybody in the room knows what I am talking about”.
The piece has a sexual assault at its heart and we meet the alleged perpetrator right at the beginning. On his phone to a mate while playing video games, James is bragging about last night with a girl called Kelsey. She posed for some topless shots and his other mate got his phone and uploaded them to social media. Here begins the loss of privacy and victim blaming which the play explores. In the next scenes Jackson shows how Kelsey’s sister, a prosecutor and a female police officer and a sexologist responds.
The conceit of the work is clever. Having video between the scenes is a neat way of providing time for a more complete costume and hair change than most single performer shows allow. The graphics move the story along by showing the posts and tweets of the on stage events and the reaction of characters who we don’t meet in person. The characters on stage are always in conversation with an invisible other and that is a very difficult acting challenge. Jackson’s acting is very good and we get them. Her writing is also very good and we understand all the people we meet.
Where text and performance come together is in the penultimate scene. The character is Jane Draper and she is seated on a chair on the apron of the stage in the blinding white spot. The story comes to head and the audience no longer hears the cacophony around. Belief, presence and raw emotion are right there and it’s hard to watch. Harder to pull away. Jackson has risen above the surroundings.
The show was a sell out during the Sydney Fringe and will be travelling to several other cities next year. In its current form it’s a terrific show but the potential is there for it to be more. With a bit more cash to invest in polish, not veneer just some neatening, this show could speak to audiences who need to encounter these themes in this accessible way.
An investment in good quality video projection to showcase the excellent graphics designed by Brandon Wong; more time with director, Janys Hayes in developing the persona of the sister and a bit more Dramaturgical intervention by Catherine Fargher in the prosecutor scene would perfect this passionate and relevant work.
"Handle It - Sydney Fringe Reviewer, 2014
The centrality of social media to young people’s social lives is a hot topic at the moment, particularly the dangers of “sexting” among adolescents. In Handle It, these issues are explored as they play out in the lives of seven characters (all portrayed by self-proclaimed feminist actor and playwright Laura Jackson). This work clearly aims to provide a starting point for discussion about such serious issues, and this is achieved while also giving us some lighthearted comic relief.
Against a sinister backdrop of social media projections and through a series of revealing monologues, we are introduced to each of the characters. Eighteen year old university student Kelsey becomes caught up in a scandal where some suggestive pictures of hers have ended up online and “gone viral”. Not only that, but she has apparently been the victim of a physical and sexual assault. With Kelsey reluctant to talk, the people around her are left in the aftermath piecing together what might have happened. Her older sister Alexa is already laying blame against the man she knows is responsible, but she never stopped to consider that she could be wrong. Her alleged attacker James is determined to protect his own reputation. Her younger stepsister Jane is hiding a terrible secret.
The policewoman assigned to Kelsey’s case is trying to be sympathetic, but she’s frustrated. Add a ditzy lawyer and a “pro-internet sexologist” who doesn’t see a problem with victim blaming into the mix, and...well, everyone has an opinion on Kelsey’s situation. Each of these is brought to life with tremendous nuance and flair.
All the while, the online world spirals out of control.
Interestingly, although Kelsey is the protagonist of the show, she is absent from most of it. I couldn’t help but wonder whether this was a device to demonstrate how depersonalized these events have made her, she is a construct of the stories surrounding her. If this was the intention, then it was very effective.
Brilliantly written and acted, this show is a thought-provoking and entertaining examination of dominant discourses about the internet, violence against women and contemporary society itself.
"Handle It" - a Review
Louise McIntosh 2014
In an age where social media is a dominant force in society, ‘Handle It’ is an important play which encourages its audience to engage in a necessary conversation. Laura Jackson has written a stunning piece of theatre that is both thought provoking and effortlessly entertaining.
‘Handle It’ is about a series of events that unfold involving the main character, Kelsey Armitage. Compromising pictures of Kelsey appear online and this sparks a discussion among the other characters in the play. The audience soon realises that the pictures are not the only concern as more sinister events are unravelled. As the audience begins to piece together what may or may not have happened, they are concurrently shown how the images and discussion online begin to escalate. It is an effective reminder of the social media commentary that is often so present in our lives. Although a lot of the subject matter is indeed very serious, Ms Jackson has managed to incorporate a lot of light and shade into the show. There are moments of genuine humour interspersed throughout the play that make it a very well rounded and enjoyable piece of theatre.
The play is unusual in that the main character is largely absent from the stage. Instead, her story is revealed through the other six characters who present their perspective of the events through their monologues. Ms Jackson plays each of these six characters and gives a seamless and remarkable performance. Each character is very different and all have their own distinct agendas. Ms Jackson manages to convey a very convincing portrayal of each one. She has clearly given a lot of thought as to how the different characters would sound, think and move. She even manages to very successfully play a male character in the opening scene. The performance delivered by the young playwright reveals a certain wisdom and insightful maturity well beyond her years.
The play highlights the fact that the words that we choose in our daily lives are important and ultimately reveal our attitudes to a variety of issues. It is a play that will undoubtedly get you thinking. It sparks conversations that we all need to have today about social media, relationships between men and women, assault, victim blaming and feminism to name a few. Many audience members who have seen the play in its previous seasons have commented that they think it should be compulsory viewing for everyone, young and old, men and women, and I wholeheartedly agree. These are the sorts of topics that we need to start discussing in high schools, universities and with our friends and family.
So take a night off from watching Netflix and step out and engage with a drama that is both compelling and important. It is a riveting piece of theatre that you cannot afford to miss.
"Handle It" - A Review, 2011
Not for the faint of heart, Handle It is an avant-garde reflection on the sexual health of generation Y.
This bold monologue mixes modern movements for gender equality with conservative concerns about sex and lifestyle, achieving that rare feat of being both entertaining and intellectual.
The script is well researched to say the least. It is refreshing to see a piece of theatre treat these sensitive themes with realism, thoughtfulness and maturity.
Most astonishingly, all seven characters in the play are performed by the one brilliant actor, Laura Jackson, with little overlap and entire conviction.
I highly recommend this performance for any intellectual, psychologist, drama lover, sociologist, sex expert, aspiring writer, dramaturgy student or theatre critic.