New York-based Adrienne Truscott is performing her show at London’s Soho Theatre until the end of the month. She performs naked from the waist down. The title is:
ADRIENNE TRUSCOTT’S ASKING FOR IT – A ONE-LADY RAPE ABOUT COMEDY STARRING HER PUSSY AND LITTLE ELSE!
“I understand,” she told me at Soho Theatre yesterday, “some people could see the title and think Who is this gimmicky, cheeky woman trying to make light of rape?”
“Is it a gimmick?” I asked.
“It’s a gimmick,” said Adrienne, “but one which has some weight to it because, in theory, if I’m on stage with my pants off and my make-up on and I’m two or three gin & tonics in in a roomful of people then – on a certain level by the logic that it’s discussed in our culture – I am ‘asking for it’… And it HAS happened that someone’s got raped in a room full of people and no-one did anything to stop it.
I saw the show’s first night at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
This year, Adrienne is taking it back to Edinburgh for a limited 8-day run at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop as well as performing as half of the Wau Wau Sisters in a 17-day run of their new show Death Threats (and Other Forms of Flattery).
“Your mother came to see your opening night at the Soho Theatre last week,” I said. “Had she seen Asking For It in New York?”
“I’ve barely done it in the States.”
“How did she react last week?”
“The best part was I could hear her laughing during the show. Afterwards, she said: I thought it was brilliant, love.”
“She’s from Exeter.”
“So you’re half English?”
“I’m more than half English. My father’s American, but his father is from Cornwall. My mother moved to the States when she was 20.
“I lived over here for a little bit when I was seven, after my parents got divorced – St Austell in Cornwall, but I spent most of my time around Exeter and Devon.
“My grandfather is from Fowey and his father was a ship’s captain. My sister is a writer. She’s currently working on a historical novel. She’s written a lot of poetry in her time.”
Adrienne’s father is an academic specialist on the writings of the Italian poet Dante.
“My family,” Adrienne said, “are not showbiz. They’re not chomping at the bit to get on the stage.”
“Your mother has seen the Wau Wau Sisters presumably?” I asked.
There is a video on YouTube of the Wau Wau Sisters performing their show The Last Supper in Australia.
“So your mother is used to nudity and dodginess and sexuality?” I said.
“I wouldn’t say she’s used to any of that. She’s seen the shows and she sort of gets I’m doing it from a different place than that other tawdry version.”
“The Wau Wau Sisters are tawdry?” I asked.
“I feel that we’re insistently tawdry. It’s not that we’re called tawdry. We announce that we’re tawdry, though we have a lot of slyly political fun with being tawdry and being naked. My mother sort-of gets that this Asking For It show is smart-tawdry but that doesn’t mean it makes her any more comfortable. My mum is not entirely comfortable with me running around taking my clothes off, but she sort of understands the reasons.”
“Had you decided you’d had enough of the Wau Waus?” I asked.
“Not at all. We’re still Wau Wauing.”
“You pronounced that with a V,” I said. Vau Vau not Wau Wau.”
“Yes,” said Adrienne, “Vow-Vow Sisters.”
“It’s German?” I asked.
“It comes from a Brecht character named Mr Wau. We were given the name because someone watching us found us to be somewhat Brechtian and because this character Mr Wau is a strongman in a circus and is followed around by a band of freaks. So we, with the help of this friend, sort-of imagined us like the bastard daughters of Mr Wau.”
“So what’s the point of writing a one-woman show on rape?” I asked. Because it’s going to have an effect?”
“First and foremost,” said Adrienne, “I thought it was interesting material. I’m not saying, Right! That’s my show! We can put rape to bed. That won’t be happening any more. I just wanted to contribute to a conversation that I felt was lacking.
“It started writing itself in my head and then I realised it was quite topical. I was writing it before all the rape show shenanigans started last year. I had been thinking about How can you use comedy to talk about rape in a smart way? and then, as I was working on it, it became as much about What are the rules and pitfalls and structures of comedy? and then, while I was working on it, all this Rape Joke controversy blew up last year.
“In the States, it turned into an election year, so there was a lot of crazy politics going on. It was getting kinda zeitgeisty and that’s when I thought Fuck! I’m going to take it to Edinburgh NOW – Now is the time to comment on this!
“Because?” I asked.
“I’ve never been satisfied with the way rape is discussed. Even organisations and ad campaigns I still felt took the wrong approach and still talked about it in an annoying way.”
“Annoying in what way?” I asked.
“Talking about victims. One origin of the show – but not the only one – was I was in a very small class at university: it was sort of a race gender class.”
“How very American,” I said.
“My professor was a man and he was trying to get us a bit riled-up by shocking us with statistics. Amongst many statistics about race and pain inequity, he said 2 in 5 women are sexually assaulted or raped. There were about 13 or 14 people in the class – about 10 women. He said: Doesn’t that get you riled-up? It means in this class at least 4 women have been raped? How does that make you feel? and he asked why we weren’t responding. I told him: Partly, we’re not responding because we’re shellshocked and feel weird and uncomfortable. I would like to know – because there are two male students and you in this class – which one of you is a rapist? Let’s talk about you guys. Literally if, statistically speaking, you’re talking about a closed group and you’ve announced some of us got raped, then one of you three had to partake in it. So you’re fucking guilty. Let’s talk about that instead of the ‘victims’… And I think that’s a really potent conversation to have.”
“How did he react?”
“He found himself at a loss for words, just like we had been.”
“The interesting thing in Edinburgh last year,” I said, “was that the word got round very, very quickly that it was a serious piece of work.”
“I had never done solo stuff before,” said Adrienne, “and had never had an interest in it. I found it really challenging and thrilling – doing solo work as well as stand-up. Both were new to me.”
“It was a big leap,” I said. “First solo show. Small room. Nudity.”
“Yeah,” said Adrienne. “And make it about rape. What could go wrong? I knew I’d made a show that basically had a shape and an arc and was basically what I wanted to say. But I had only done that exact version of the show in front of an audience once – about four days before I left for Edinburgh.
“I was hoping to make a little bit of a splash with Hey, maybe you can talk about rape this way, I also just wanted to perform 30 nights in a row because I knew, by the end of it, I would have something better than what I arrived with. I would get all that feedback from an audience and sort it out.”
As it turned out, Adrienne won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the Panel Prize for whatever the Perrier Awards were called last year.
“I have,” Adrienne told me, “never yet got a review saying: This is an outrage! Why did she do it?”
“Would you say you were a feminist?”
“I’m absolutely feminist. But I want this show to be understood as a comedy show. It’s really fun for me to watch the audiences’ eyes when I do my show. “
“So, are you going to do a Rape 2 show next year?”
“No. But I was talking to (promoter) Bob Slayer over one too many bourbons last night about doing maybe a one-off in Edinburgh this year about some material that’s come up from doing the show.”
“A show about the show?”
“A night about the show.”
“I’ll be there,” I said.