How Wakefield play producers hope to spark conversations about tackling sexual harassment and violence against women

A play exploring sexual harassment and assault against women is being performed in Wakefield. Laura Reid hears from those behind it about their hopes for the show.

Meet Charlotte, a university student who has been sexually assaulted after a night out.

She is scared; and her mental health is spiralling as it comes back to her slowly that he took advantage, that he violated her.

She doesn’t know how to tell anyone and, when she can finally open up, she has no idea who will take her seriously.

Members of the cast rehearse the 97% play.

Charlotte is a fictional character in a play exploring sexual harassment and assault against women. But her story is sadly one to which many women and girls can relate.

The theatre production 97% charts the devastating impact that sexual assault has on Charlotte’s life and relationships.

Those behind it hope it opens up dialogue about the role we all have to play in halting sexual harassment and violence against women.

Joanne Broadhead is the play’s producer and the co-director of Empath Action CIC, the Wakefield-based arts and wellness company, which is working with new theatre start-up Hit Like a Girl Theatre to stage the show.

Showings of the play will take place in Wakefield later this week.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was it was being performed and the theatre was full of women thinking oh that must be awful, I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” she muses.

“Actually, that’s not going to be the case because the vast majority will have some sort of experience.”

Read More

Read More
Scale of violence against women and girls in the six months after Sarah Everard ...

It came, in part, as a response to the horrific murder of Sarah Everard, and the protests and social media movements that followed.

It takes its name from a viral social trend, which has its roots in harrowing statistics offered by an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report for UN Women.

The report, dated March 2021, looked into the prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment towards women in UK public spaces.

It found that 71 per cent of women of all ages had experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space – with young women in particular reporting high incidence.

Only three per cent of those aged 18-24 said they had not experienced sexual harassment of any kind, including being cat-called or stared at, unwelcome touching or groping, being physically followed, having suggestive or indecent content shared with them, being forced into taking part in sexual behaviour and more.

That means that 97 per cent have, and social media users across the world have since used the platforms to share their own stories and experiences and to raise awareness of the sexual harassment that women face day to day.

“It’s something that most women experience, go through, have to deal with on a daily basis,” Eve says.

“And as much as it is talked about, I don’t think it’s a topic that is tackled enough.”

Eve portrays lead character Charlotte in the play, which focuses on themes including consent, sexism and sexualisation, calling out harassment and how women can be left feeling voiceless.

“In terms of the discourse around these issues, it’s often not looking at what are men doing to help this, instead it’s always what can women do to be safer,” says play director, and the co-director of Empath Action, Steven Busfield.

The team hope that the play will start conversations on how to change that - how men can help, as well as highlighting how prevalent sexual harassment towards women actually is and what support is available for those affected.

“There is education around consent, around sexualisation, sexual assault but it feels quite formulaic,” Joanne says.

“I think what theatre does is it allows people to take more of an interest and more learning than they would from being sat in a classroom and being told about things.

“When they can see those experiences and how they affect people, that’s when it starts to make an impact.”

Also part of the play are Dawid Bas, Danny Barraclough, Lizzie Waterhouse, Rachel Vincent, Logan Wilby, Callum Monkman, Finley Brown and Nia Swindells.

The group received funding from the West Yorkshire Mayor’s Safer Communities Fund, which has enabled them to focus their efforts on community dialogue, as well as the play itself.

They have produced a leaflet highlighting the Ask for Angela initiative in Wakefield district - a scheme which operates in many places across the country and enables a person who believes they are in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation to ask venue staff for ‘Angela’, a code word to get them help to get home safely and discreetly.

The leaflet also outlines where people can turn to for support after experiencing sexual harassment or assault and will be stocked through the Wakefield Libraries service and The Ridings Shopping Centre.

After each showing of the play, the team is providing space for a question and answer session to explore topics raised in the show and to highlight what the community would like to change, and where anyone impacted by sexual assault can get support.

It is hoped, going forward, they can also work with schools and colleges to help empower young people.

“This isn’t just something that happens every now and again, this is a problem that is everyone’s responsibility and particularly men’s responsibility to take action on.”

Only recently, during rehearsals for the upcoming play, two cast members stepped outside for a break, only to receive unwanted cat-calls.

“It really can happen at any time and what we really want to do is get that home to men,” Steven says.

“For women, the message we are working towards is that there is support out there, you don’t have to go through this alone.

“And for men, it’s about here’s how you can be the advocate - because I do believe a lot of men would like to do that.”

97% takes place at The Mechanics’ Performing Arts Theatre in the heart of Wakefield later this week.

It is a free event, with performances on July 22 at 6.30pm and July 23 at 3.30pm and 6.30pm.

Each showing lasts approximately 30 minutes, with a further 30 minutes forum immediately after.

Tickets can be booked by visiting www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/empath-action-cic-40758897983

Empath Action CIC supports people to tell stories through theatre performance, film, poetry, crafting and other creative mediums.

It has three main areas of focus: to promote mental health and wellbeing; to use creativity to promote pride, kindness and compassion; and to upskill people creatively and keep talent within the district.

It is led by Joanna Broadhead and Steven Busfield, both based in Wakefield.

Steven has worked as a professional writer, artist and performer for over a decade.

Joanne has a background as a research director with a particular focus on qualitative and shopper research.

For more information, visit empathaction.org