Any theatre production with audience participation rarely makes you feel like you want to participate. When asking audiences to reflect on and discuss topics like consent and sexual assault, you must keep them comfortable and engaged. That is what Theatr Genedlaethol have achieved with their latest theatre production, Ie Ie Ie.
Performed and facilitated by actress and comedian Eleri Morgan, the show follows her eponymous 26-year-old character as she attends her crush’s birthday party, and the pair have to navigate comfort, communication and consent. A fizzy, joyous and giddy story (adapted, by Lily Beau, from a New Zealand production titled Yes Yes Yes), it shows the positive impact communicating with and listening to your partner can have. A second narrative runs in parallel: the story of 16-year-old Ri, whose story does not end as happily. While both protagonists are initially excited to get together with their respective partners, where Eleri can pull back, Ri is pressured into having sex against her will.
The team, led by director Juliette Manon, have done an excellent job of opening out and softening the space. Morgan is funny and bubbly and knows when to leave space for reflection and also when to pull the audience back into the fun. The show is not too serious or morose – unusual with plays about this particular topic – and gives audience members the space they need to engage with and process the topic at hand, which it does in a few ways.
Ri’s story, the less positive of the two, is read out by audience members via a series of text conversations. This offers two benefits: the first is that, because audience members are reading it, the emotional impact is lessened purely because they are reading and not acting. You hear the words and can process them, but the emotion isn’t pushed at you in the same way. The second is that the text conversations allow much-needed distance between the audience member and the subject. It’s not happening immediately at the moment, and so it’s inherently not as distressing.
The other ways Manon’s team achieve this are through multimedia elements. Videos of young people talking about sex and relationships add humour and lightness to the piece while allowing those in attendance to hear from young people learning about consent for the first time. In addition, the play includes breaks where audience members are invited to hop online via their phones and anonymously express how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking about. This gives space to reset after more emotional moments and allows the audience to collectively reflect on what they’re experiencing.
To be clear, while Ie Ie Ie does an excellent job of navigating the topic at hand, it will still trigger some audience members; I would offer caution when buying tickets if you have experienced sexual violence. Eleri’s more positive story is a much-needed antidote to the more disturbing themes of Ri’s, and the show ends on a gleeful note, but a heavy focus on the emotional impact of ignoring your partner’s needs could distress some audience members.
All this aside, Ie Ie Ie is an important, well-performed and well-constructed show. Someone last night said it should be taken to every school in Wales, and I can’t disagree. Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru has given us hope for a better theatrical future for Wales, and now it’s giving us hope for a more empathetic and kind one too.
Ie Ie Ie, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff, Tue 6 Feb
words HARI BERROW