Anyone with a basic sense of justice would agree that it doesn’t seem fair that the victim of a crime should be characterised by that crime for the rest of his or her life… but why do we as society then hold people hostage to their past by buying into the media hype that usually surrounds it? Do we even realise that we are feeding the monster that we protest to be ‘judging’ in support of justice? This social conundrum underlies the new Canned Rice Productions presented play, Court, currently showing at Alexander Bar’s Upstairs Theatre.
On 29 June 2016, I was treated to a behind the scenes glimpse as Candice van Litsenborgh and Claire-Louise Worby rehearsed for Court. It is a fictional story inspired, in part, by the life and experiences of Samantha Geimer, the woman who is sadly mainly known as "that girl" in the Roman Polanski rape case, and not for the life she built for herself regardless of that. Under direction of Richard Wright-Firth, the two actresses portray one woman, pursued for 22 years for "the truth", while also taking on another character each to highlight how the media and the judicial system failed her.
Candice van Listenborgh, who also wrote the text, found inspiration for this play while reading Samantha Geimer book “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski”. Geimer penned the book in an attempt to show that her life is so much more than what happened to her all those years ago, in response to being constantly hounded by the media and even getting referenced in ‘jest’ at the Oscars. As Candice explains, Geimar “actually found the media circus worse to deal with than the 10 minute rape incident. I was so inspired by her story that I basically wrote the play in a day.”
As a play, Court, however does not focus on the rape and the victim status of the woman at the centre of the trial. It rather showcases the bravery it takes to “take back your own story” in circumstances where the ‘helpful’ actions of ‘concerned’ onlookers are making it almost impossible for the woman to live a normal life.
From talking to Candice and Claire-Louise, it is clear that with Court they are not attempting to victimise any party to the story; it is rather an attempt to illustrate that those defining moments aren’t the choice of the woman as survivor, but results from the fact that everyone else wants that to be her defining moment… labelling her “that girl who got raped” for the rest of her life. “As society we bag for blood. It is sick that every time something bad has to happen to a woman on stage or screen it is shown as a rape scene,” Claire-Louise passionately explains. “Yes”, Candice adds “there are other things far worse, like being ‘hunted’ and being called a liar for the rest of your life because people make your story their entertainment”.
This may all make Court sound a bit heavy, very dramatic, and even a shaming off society for exploiting victims of sexual offences, but after seeing Candice and Claire-Louise rehearse I can truly state that Court does not try and make any one character (or even the audience), the victim, heroine or villain. It is all about inviting the audience to question whether we are being helpful or harmful with our constant opinions of and interest in other people’s lives. It's an opportunity for introspection, holding up the mirror so to speak.
Court does all this while still bringing a bit of an offbeat humour to the play. In fact, especially the Geimer inspired character is actually very witty, sarcastic and strong in her perspective and the way she handles the situation, both as her younger and present day self. Definitely not a woman that wants anyone to pity her.
Personally I can’t wait to see the final product on stage in all its inspirational glory!
Court opened at Alexander Bar's Upstairs theatre on Monday, 4 July 2016, and you can go catch it onstage there until 16 July 2016. Book at www.alexanderbar.co.za and make use of the online discount offer. You won't be sorry. This one is going to have Cape Town buzzing!