Originally a novel by Louise O’Neill, Asking For It has now been adapted into an on-stage production by Meadhbh McHugh, in collaboration with Annabelle Comyn. It received five-star reviews from publications like the Irish Examiner, The Irish Mail On Sunday, and the Irish Independent saying ‘It is worth the hype’ this was a production that had everyone in Cork waiting with baited breath for it to arrive in the Everyman Theatre. This production ran in the Everyman Theatre from September 26th– October 5th and deals with many themes that are very consistent in society today. Asking For It takes you on the emotional journey of a community in Ballinatoom, Co.Cork and how one night affected so many people for the weeks, months and years to come.
At the beginning of Asking For It control is introduced as a major theme which runs throughout the play. Our main character Emma is eighteen years old, she’s smart, pretty and has a great group of friends at school. The Emma we see at the start of the play is in control of her life and it is clear her friends look to her as a guidepost within their group even if they don’t always agree with her. We are also introduced to a group of boys who go to school with Emma and who become critical to the storyline of control. As act one progresses, control starts to slip away from Emma’s grasp until she reaches the point where she cannot remember anything from the night before at Sean’s party. After this point we see Emma lose control of her situation as it spirals out of control. This is when the theme of loss is explored in Asking For It.
Loss can inspire many issues but this play deals with loss of dignity and loss of privacy in the digital world today. In this play, a traumatic event for Emma could not be simply reported to the proper authorities, social media allowed everyone to report their own opinion without gathering the facts of the case. Asking For It illustrates how Emma copes with this loss of privacy and the significant changes that happen in her life after Sean’s party. The second act shows how one year on Emma’s family affected by the case. Mysterious phone calls from multiple sources who want to know about the Ballinatoom girl breach their privacy rights while local papers write stories to mark the year commemoration and ask where those are who were involved in the case now. In this act we get to see the family as a microcosm of society as each member has a starkly different reaction to the case. Through each of these views the audience can try to understand the reasoning behind their beliefs and how the case affected each one of them.
Crisis of identity is another theme that runs through the play and evolves in different dilemmas faced by the characters. Emma faces an identity crisis after the night at Sean’s party, when Conor comes over to comfort her, she insinuates flirting claiming “I belong to everyone now”. It’s a clear sign of how she is grappling with her self-identity and self-worth because of society’s new opinion of her. Conor experiences his own identity crisis within his group of friends throughout the play. While he does want to be a part of the group during the play there are moments where he breaks away from his group’s culture and experiences some tender moments with Emma that are outside of his group’s values that identifies them within local society.
Asking For It is a heart-breaking play that raises issues that will stay in your memory. It highlights the problems that exist for young people today in the culture of rape and drugs and how social media has now infected that culture to present it as a spectator event instead of a criminal act. Asking For It shows what society’s reaction can be like when someone is raped, and it is posted online for everyone to see to offer their judgements and opinions while the victim is helplessly silent. Crucially it shows not just the immediate reaction but also how society reflects on the event a year later. It is a play that will keep you on the edge of your seat because of its intensity, emotion and uncanny ability to reflect Irish society in the 21st century.