It’s a sad reflection on society that by just reading the simple two-word title, so many of us know exactly what the play is going to be about. We know because those two words create the little stirring of panic that we, walking home alone at night, always feel. The constant glances behind you to check that nobody’s there, the reach inside your pocket for something sharp to keep at hand; the phone call to someone you know just to make yourself look unapproachable. The feeling of undeserved dread that won’t go away until you’ve removed the keys from between your knuckles and locked the door behind you.
Walking Home is a thought-provoking, insightful drama about the overwhelming presence of sexual violence in everyday life. The show follows a group of office workers as their morning turns from scheduling spreadsheets and sharing idle gossip, to the news of an appalling incident affecting a colleague and the knock-on effect it has for each of them. As the news sinks in, our four cast members each provide horrific stories, taken from real-life people, and offer different perspectives on the impact of sexual violence in modern society.
Each cast member delivers their performance with integrity and respect. As each one delivers a difficult, heart-wrenching story, they offer a commitment and gravitas that emphasises the serious issues at their centre. Particular acclaim must be given to the female cast members, who have the difficult job of portraying truly some harrowing stories in a way that captures their horror, but mostly reflects the feelings that pair alongside every moment of it all.
Though the story largely tackles the serious subject matter with grace and understanding, there is one moment that I feel could have been addressed with a little more care. In a show that tackles a subject as personal and heavy as sexual assault, particular attention must be paid to the feelings of its audience – and the show goes out of its way to ensure the audience are made aware of the potential triggers that will be featured. However, the introduction of audience participation skims on the edges of creating an intentionally uncomfortable atmosphere and crossing an important boundary.
Though most of the participation is done as a group, with the option to simply not involve yourself, there is a moment of involving an individual audience member that I believe is ill-thought through, and may create an air of discomfort strong enough to dampen the rest of the show. I feel secure in this opinion because, on the day I attended, that audience member was me.
Walking Home is a largely well-written and well-performed piece of theatre, tackling an important message from a place of genuine concern. Yet the subject matter it addresses is one of supreme delicacy, that cannot make allowances for careless mishandling. I hope in the future the company many consider an alternative approach to the narrative, as I truly care about the message they are trying to get across.