Us Two is a new play from investigative journalist Lucinda Borrell (The Telegraph, Panorama). It focuses on the unexplored consequences for women on the fringes of stories we see in the media. The play focuses on journalist Lizzy and showbiz wife and mother Beth, as they navigate their complex relationship against the background of #MeToo.
It runs at The Space from 21-25 January at 7.30pm, with a post show Q&A on the 23 January. Readers of this blog may claim a discount on their booking by entering the code LIZZY at checkout.
I asked Lucinds to explain a bit more about the play and her views on the current journalistic landscape.
What was the inspiration for Us Two, and why present it in theatre form?
LB: One of the most interesting investigations of recent years to me was the Philip Green expose. There had been a lot of influential men brought down by #metoo but what fascinated me about this one was that his wife stood by him even though half of his money was in her name – for tax reasons.
There was a recording of his right to reply where he threatened the journalist involved and I just remember listening to that recording and thinking why would anyone stick by a man like that? It couldn’t have been for financial purposes so what was it?
At the same time I was also running an investigation about the home education movement that someone I knew was heavily involved in. It didn’t criticise home educators themselves, but explored how the lack of obligations they had enabled child abuse in some communities to go undetected.
This friend at the time and her husband were very active in that community, so I couldn’t talk about what I was working on. Not that they would have intentionally jeopardised it, but you have to be very careful. By the time I published, we’d grown apart. Not because of the investigation but because of life.
Interestingly there were some members of the home education community that were actually quite abusive. I got a LOT of hate mail and there’s a home education site that has given my article a page of my own and referred to me as a ‘tool of the state’.
Given the backlash I made the right decision not discussing it. Not that they would have done anything, but it might have put them in a difficult position with their community once it went live.
So basically both these things were on my mind at the same time. They kind of merged and the #UsTwo grew from there.
Is Lizzy an autobiographical portrait in any way, as you are a journalist yourself?
LB: I wouldn’t say Lizzy is autobiographical. Like she’s not me. Having said that, she is a journalist so there are similarities there.
I think Lizzy is sometimes a bit more of an asshole than I am: the way she handles things sometimes I’m like ‘please don’t say that.’
I think sub-consciously there’s probably some of my personality in Beth as well.
I don’t think you can escape that when writing because when creating a new character from scratch you have to find something in then that you can identify with – even if you don’t agree with it.
So I think some parts of both of them share traits with me, but I’ve also drawn off traits that I see in other people in my life as well and hopefully created something new.
Reporting has been receiving a lot of scrutiny in recent months, especially around influencing, fake news and ethics. How does this fit in with the narrative of Us Two?
LB: I think #fakenews is something that comes into news reporting rather than long current affairs investigations because news is about getting the story first and in digestible chunks – whereas investigations are ridiculously long and tend to expose stuff no-one else is able to find.
The #metoo movement is pretty spot on in terms of the culture of sexual harassment. I mean this does disproportionately affect women – but it’s important to remember that it also impacts on men as well. The Kevin Spacey investigation demonstrated that. So it’s not only a women’s thing.
In TV & film. I think there is a huge cultural problem where people are given too much influence. So big stars have a lot of power because they bring in viewers which in turn brings in revenue. It’s the same with theatre. There’s a reluctance to fire these people because there is a LOT of money and jobs and livelihoods at stake.
Some of the people brought down by the #metoo movement such as Spacey, I’d heard rumours about on the old ‘front of house’ grapevine in London from people who knew people who’d worked with them. So you know, when it broke, it wasn’t a new thing, it was just that people were emotionally ready to go on record.
So while fake news is an issue – and there may be a few cases where harassment is reported where the facts have been embellished – I would say the movement itself is pretty factually established.
Do you think the world is changing to favour the abused over the abuser? The case of Grace Mullane comes to mind as an example of media victim blaming. What can journalists do to help turn the tide?
LB: I think the abused are being believed more when they report abuse on a social level. There a still a lot of people who think “stupid liars” but there’s also a lot more people who are like “they might not believe you but I do”.
But I still think there are a lot of problems. How believed you are depends on who the abuser was, but also on your entire life history which is just not OK. For example there have been cases in rape trials where a woman’s entire sexual history has been brought up to shed reasonable doubt on a rape case.
In sexual assault trials, as with any criminal trial, all you have to do is create the tiniest shred of doubt in the minds of the jury and then there can be no conviction, and some lawyers try to do this by painting the woman ‘slut who changed her mind’ trope and bring in previous sexual experience to play in to that narrative. Even though there is no such thing as a slut. They are just someone who enjoys sex.
Sordid details sell headlines. People want to read about gossip and scandal and I think part of the reason the Grace case stood out for papers was that there was a different angle on the ‘woman killed by man’ story. It was ‘woman who liked kinky sex and watched porn killed by man’ and that sold papers.
It was almost that the world seemed to forget she was a real person with thoughts and feelings. You know what I can’t find reported anywhere though: what her degree was in; what she wanted to do with her life; who she WAS.
Her killer was convicted, but all we know is that a woman who may or may not have had unique sexual tastes died at the hands on an anonymous man. Even after the trial, his name remains unpublished. And the judge won’t even tell us why.
Generally, journalists do need to consider how they report on such crimes, but each journalist has their own conscience. On top of that, sometimes on publications your work goes through multiple editors to adhere to house style. What you write might get diluted. That’s why there are some organisations I won’t work for as a journalist.
What is the take-home message for audiences of this play?
LB: I guess there isn’t one take home message. I just want people to come, engage with the topic and to form their own opinions.
As with any show, two people can see the same thing and come out with completely different opinions as to whether they enjoyed it, or what the message was. That in turn generates discussion.
So I guess that’s it really, I want it to generate discussion rather than giving a take home message.
My thanks to Lucinda for her in-depth and honest answers. You can find full details about Us Two and book tickets at The Space website.