Photo: Katt Webster for CPT.

 

 

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

I don’t know how to write about sexual assault anymore.

 

Writer and performer Alissa Cooper doesn’t tell us what the man is called. She dodges around it, as if applying a title to him solidifies his actions, makes them concrete around her and traps her in. She talks to us but behind her on a screen the words “I can’t say his name” repeat over and over.

Visually arresting and emotionally knackering, this moment guts you.

Sexual assault has become part of our daily conversation. It’s in every newspaper. It’s crawling out of every surface. Speaking up carries so much weight and yet so many are dragging themselves through it. Change feels tangible.

Awareness is vital and it’s both breaking down horrific cultural norms and revealing monstrous actions, but the unrelenting news cycle and debate can be exhausting, particularly if you are surrounded by people who disagree with you, or if you have personal experience of assault.

So talking about it can be tough. Putting words down makes it present all over again.

Because one night, one action, one choice to ignore someone’s refusal can mean that it loops around your head for a long, long time after. A repeated sentence or image, projected again and again onto the back of a wall.

“I can’t say his name.”

There are signs of boldness and unique experimentation that break away from the classic autobiographical one-person show in Love Songs: “Never Have I Ever”; the projected writing on the wall; an appliqued jumper standing in for another character; witty moments of audience interaction. Cooper eloquently links porn and pizza while vilifying the hypersexualisation of East Asian women, and uses a hula hoop to express her emotions when words won’t do, in a way reminiscent of Edinburgh’s hit show Hot Brown Honey.

Though the experiments don’t always land, they hold the most weight. They extract the original meaning of a game or an object and replace them with something that is entirely hers.

For a show with sexual assault at its heart, Love Songs is surprisingly sweet, like a bitter pill covered in layers of sugar, in an attempt to show that she is far more than what happened to her that night. The show is largely about navigating love. It’s jolly, bouncy, self-mocking and funny. When Cooper reveals just how in love she is today, the unbound joy is not even a tiny bit cringe worthy, it’s just delightful.

Cooper is most comfortable when she is dancing around the stage, putting the audience at ease while making us giggle, little winks and nudges tucked into lip syncs. Her humour is charming and her bravery admirable.

There are chunks of the show that aren’t as cleverly curated, where the aesthetics are scrappier, the language slightly throwaway and the poetry unable to stand up either for comedic or theatrical purposes. But ultimately Cooper creates an environment where we really care for her, to the point where we’re happy to listen to cheesy love songs all night and are genuinely thrilled for her happy ending.

 

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