When the tag line for a show proclaims it to be a dark comedy about rape, losing your mind and finding yourself, you can be assured that the content will be as equally hard hitting and Summer Camp for Broken people at the Pleasance certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
Award-wining writer, producer and performer Emily Beecher presents a frank and brutal autobiographical one-women show which recounts her journey from a serious sexual assault at a works Christmas party and explores the long lasting after effects.
We first meet Emily years after the event as she is preparing for her daughter’s birthday party, going to extreme efforts to make it the best rainbow and unicorn themed party she can. Outwardly Emily’s behaviour doesn’t appear to be unusual for a stressed mother hosting a children’s party, however in retelling the events, Emily informs us that her drive to create the perfect party were driven by perfectionism and anxiety and that she was presenting a façade to the world which masked a deeper trauma of the sexual attack. In her words she was a “zombie” who was faking it!
Reaching a point of being overwhelmed by post-traumatic stress disorder, Emily attends The Priory as a day patient and recounts the therapy she received, people she met and her gradual recovery. Through the process of therapy, Emily is told that she is “sicker than she thinks” and it’s accepting this information that helps her to heal and find a way through the darkness. Armed with the knowledge that Emily can feel good again means that even if she breaks in the future, she knows there is a way out.
The use of effective lighting (by Stacey Nurse), projection (Dan Light) and audio (Nicola T.Chang) throughout cleverly creates variation and allows Emily to shift from one day to the next at The Priory as we follow her treatment without becoming repetitive.
We then witness another breakdown, exasperated by the use of coping mechanisms such as Whiskey and Xanax, and Emily lashes out trashing her belongings as she reaches rock bottom again. There is then a shift in the show’s narrative when Beecher turns up the house lights and addresses the audience directly, talking openly about her experience when she reported the rape, how society, the police and colleagues reacted to her at the time and what happened to her attacker. With a deep knowledge of the subject matter, she shares the alarming statistics that one in three women will have suffered some form of sexual assault, which she pointed out was about twenty women in the audience. She also retells the shocking details of sexual harassment of her nine-year-old daughter and how as a mother and victim she dealt with it, ultimately by telling her daughter that he believes her.
Although billed as a dark comedy, the sheer weight of the subject matter prevents the comedic moments from truly flying, especially when this story is being told by the actual victim and not being portrayed by another performer. That said it’s the fact that this is Emily’s own traumatic devastating life story that adds an irresistible emotional power to the show. It is a tough and harrowing story to hear which had some of the audience in tears at the end.
Beecher delivers a no-holds-barred performance and isn’t afraid to share her deeply personal thoughts and experiences, perhaps with a need to share, not as entertainment, but as part of the healing process. By exploring what happened, there is a compelling message of hope to other victims how live a life after such a trauma.
A potent and affecting show with a timely theme ★★★★