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Lynda Radley - The Interference

At the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Lynda Radley is sitting beside a group of American exchange students who have just spent the morning taking part in a workshop led by theatre-maker Kieran Hurley. After lunch they'll be getting on with rehearsing Radley's new play, The Interference, which was written specifically for them.

As Radley talks, their voices rise and fall behind her. They could be any students from anywhere, with all the excitement and high spirits being abroad brings with it. When these young people from the Malibu-based Pepperdine University step back into rehearsals, however, they will be squaring up to a troublingly prescient issue issue which could conceivably affect every single one of them.

The Interference is set on an American university campus, where a female student is raped by a sports star. While her predator is clearly guilty of the crime he has been accused of, it is his victim who is treated as though she is the one on trial in a damning indictment of privilege and institutional complicity in the demonising of the sports star's victim.

This sounds frighteningly familiar to the recent real life case in which Californian swimming star Brock Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault on another student, but sentenced to just six months confinement followed by three years probation. If this is a frightening coincidence, Radley's initial inspiration for the play came from much closer to home.

“There was a video of Stirling University hockey team,” Radley says of a notorious incident which happened in 2013. “They were filmed on a bus singing these incredibly misogynist songs, and everyone around them being incredibly intimidated.”

As can be seen in the video, when a woman stands up to the hockey team, she is rounded upon and told to get of the bus. An elected member of Stirling University's student union stands by. The video is still freely available online.

“I was also thinking of what happened at Glasgow University Union,” says Radley, of the institution that only admitted women in 1980 after a long campaign, “where, at the debating society, women debaters were shouted down with sexist comments.”

Then there was the St Andrew's University student who was jailed in 2015 after being convicted of on-campus sexual assaults, and the thirty-four per cent of female students who indicated in a newspaper poll last year that they had experienced sexual assault or abuse.

“At the same time I was becoming aware of these things,” says Radley, “I also became aware of incidents in America of women who were raped at universities more interested in protecting their sports stars.”

Radley's story about a woman called Karen who experiences something similar may be fictional, but even though her writing predated the the Brock Turner case, its shadow looms large. The case went viral, not just because of the sentencing, but for the victim's 7,000 word courtroom speech which explained exactly how Turner's actions affected her.

“When you're writing something for twelve young performers,” says Radley, “you want to write something that is relevant to them. Of course, we couldn't have predicted the publicity that the Brock Turner case was given, but because of the woman's letter and her extraordinary courage in the courtroom, it went viral.

“What's tragic about it is that, although it's unique, there are lots of cases like that, and the story we're trying to tell echoes that. This is something that goes back generations in terms of rape and sexual assault on campus, especially where the attacker has a talent or is a star, and how that skews justice.

“I think that sort of thing is ingrained in culture in general, and one of the things we've been looking at is the risks we all carry round with us, when people ask what the woman was wearing and if she'd been drinking, so there's this ingrained form of victim shaming going on.”

The Interference is the latest fruits of Pepperdine Scotland, an ongoing cultural exchange between the Malibu-based Pepperdine University's Department of Theatre and Scotland's theatre community led by Playwrights' Studio Scotland and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. While Pepperdine has been bringing work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe since 1985, the exchange began in 2012 with the Peter Arnott scripted Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?

Like that play, The Interference is directed by Cathy Thomas-Grant, who has been working on Pepperdine shows for the last sixteen years. Her production here features sound and music by composer Michael John McCarthy, who is also Radley's partner and a creative collaborator dating back to Radley's solo show, The Art of Swimming, which was first seen at the Arches in Glasgow a decade ago.

The Interference grew out of an initial development period with Radley working with the students in Malibu.

“There are lots of different voices in the play,” says Radley, “and that makes for a real cacophony of sound. There are teachers and parents and lawyers in the story, and there's a whole online section as well. Some of these are trolls, and some are Karen's friends instant messaging each other, and you see all the things that might discourage someone from coming forward and telling their story.

“We're telling Karen's story, but we're also trying to show that a rapist isn't necessarily who you think it is. It's not the guy in the ski mask, and when it's someone who's held in high esteem, and is someone who we might like, it becomes difficult, and that's reflected back on the victim. It goes back to when you're kids, and when people say, oh, he was only pulling your hair because he likes you. In the American situation, there's an economic imperative as well, and it's slowly coming to light that these things have been kept quiet to support campuses.”

Highlighting such institutional complicity in warping justice in this way is educational on every level.

“One of the things I feel strongly about,” says Radley, “is the need to teach consent to young people from an early age. It doesn't have to be heavy, but I think we need to do that, not just because we want young people to understand the law, but so we have responsible juries, and parents and teachers who are going to deal with incidents of rape compassionately instead of victim blaming.”

At the play's heart, however, is a painfully recognisable human tragedy.

“The most important thing for me is to tell Karen's story,” says Radley. “And for the audience, instead of having that thing that it's nothing to do with me,to sit back and think about this. Because victims of rape are anonymous, it's important that they're given a voice. It's extraordinary when you read the young woman's letter in the Brock Turner case. The power of having a voice really matters.”

The Interference, C Chambers St, August 3-16, 3.45-5pm.
www.ctheFestival.com

The Herald, July 12th 2016

ends

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