“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” recites Aimee Vincent, the actor playing the role of the victim in the upcoming production of 20 Minutes of Action. The long-term project of director Pollyanna Esse, opening at Bedlam Theatre this Wednesday, is set to leave audiences shocked, furious, and emotionally stranded.
20 Minutes of Action — even the title incites screams of disgust — explores the topic of sexual assault and its consequences, centring around an ongoing law case in America. A university student (played by Benji Sumrie) is sentenced to only six months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman (played by Aimee Vincent) after a frat party. Structured as a verbatim piece, every word spoken comes directly from the original court case. From the outset, audience are due to be swept away on an “emotional rollercoaster”, warns Aimee, with the length of the piece leaving no time for breath.
“How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day?” The play opens with questions, bullets being shot at the audience who sit in the courtroom in the place of the judge, the victim, and the perpetrator. You experience it first hand, you are the one to make the final call. Formal and rigid, the extremely tense atmosphere induces a stifling pressure as the audience is interrogated alongside the victim and the perpetrator.
“I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see.” The detail is graphic, bold and raw. Every bone in one’s body hates, cries, hopes at the same time. The fast pace of the piece, lasting only forty-five minutes, “feels like hours” according to Aimee. The audience is to be completely absorbed, unaware of any surroundings.
Speaking to the actors, Pollyanna and producer Emma Lake, the play’s main message is clear. The aim is to “trigger a discussion,” Pollyanna relates, to “tell people about this harrowing topic.” This is captured in Aimee’s last line- “To girls everywhere, I am with you.” Each performance is followed by a Q&A to give the audience an opportunity to share their ideas and emotions. This is a “platform and a catalyst”, producer Emma Lake explains, an effort to dissolve the stigma around the discussion of sexual assault that so prominently affects our modern lives today.
Actor Benji emphasises the extreme challenges facing the cast in playing the roles of the perpetrator and victim. Through its courtroom form, the play delves into both perspectives, probing ideas that are “important for those victimised but also for those who have the ability to [perpetrate].” With such a sensitive topic at its heart, the production endeavours to capture the emotive horror of the situation whilst inviting audience to consider the perpetrator under the rational light of the courtroom.
Poised to scare, anger and warn, the powerful 20 Minutes of Action opens on Wednesday the 2nd and runs to the 3rd at Bedlam Theatre.
Image: Andrew Perry