Review: Jane Doe, Sydney Fringe Festival

This production is gentle and respectful with a soft-spoken empathy that gives the viewer consent to add their voice to the strength we are gifted by the outspeaking of the women and men in the underlying narrative.
Review: Jane Doe, Sydney Fringe Festival

Photo via wearejanedoe.org

Historically, there are strategic words which alert audiences to what they might expect from verbatim theatre.  Confronting, difficult, challenging usually make an appearance when talking about performance that brings the truth of lived experience to the stage, especially around an exploration of rape culture. Jane Doe, which is playing as part of the Sydney Fringe, requires a different adjectival approach. For, this production is gentle and respectful with a soft-spoken empathy that gives the viewer consent to add their voice to the strength we are gifted by the outspeaking of the women and men in the underlying narrative.

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Taking one case as a starting point – Jane Doe’s case – this show uses court transcripts, talking head interviews on screen and media clips around the topic.  Audiences are guided in the viewing by Karin McCracken who enriches the dialogue with the warmth of an exceptional raconteur allied with the deceptively at ease acting and vocal skillset of someone who has presented this piece over a long period all over the world.

Jane Doe is not just about the watching. The production is billed as participatory theatre and it does require a shift of perspective about how audiences are encouraged to engage. Here, volunteers read the transcripts as perpetrator and attorney and, further, the silent watchers are invited to add to the discussion through a poll app which brings their responses to the screen.

The tech in this show is extremely well sourced, edited and interpolated into a ground-breaking format where the voices of voxpops are presented live, perfectly synced, by McCracken with the aid of a headset. The video and audio and the live mic of the courtroom is operated seamlessly by the work’s creator, Eleanor Bishop, with the screen also effectively used to display text messages sent by Jane Doe and by the perpetrators.  Seeing ‘deny til the grave’ from a person on trial for rape is chilling.

As one would expect given the subject matter, there are many such moments. One word in particular, not a swear word nor an overtly unpleasant word, sneaks into the presentation and lingers through the show. But the impact of Jane Doe has less to do with how outrage and anger rise unbidden than with the engagement of the rational mind. Brechtian distance is writ large in the foundational excellence of its design. Even the halting delivery and truthfulness of unease of the volunteer readers brings a welcome mitigation of distress as audiences are enabled to listen and think without being overwhelmed by emotion. Plus, there is a lyricism and communality to the experience of seeing Jane Doe, especially in the use of film references, The Notebook and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, inside the text. 

But make no mistake, however quietly put, this is advanced citizenship and Jane Doe is not difficult viewing, nor is it confronting.  But the challenge is implicit, this a theatre experience to make one analyse and assess and recognise: then act. 

Jane Doe plays until Saturday, September 29, 2018 and you can see more about the work, including its use on university campuses at the website: wearejanedoe.org

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Jane Doe
Creator, Writer & Director : Eleanor Bishop
Performer : Karin McCracken 
Media Design:  Dan Sakamoto & Kevan Loney
Original Music/Sound: Gareth Hobbs

25-29 September 2018
Touring Hub - Old 505 Theatre
Sydney Fringe Festival

Judith Greenaway

Thursday 27 September, 2018

About the author

Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers.  She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.