Etian by Malcolm McKay

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BBC Radio 3, 18 February 2011
The story of an emigrant Irish Catholic girl Josie (Elaine Cassidy) coming to terms with the experience of rape and its after-effects. Told from the point of view of therapist Natalie (Sally Orrock), McKay's play recalls the experience of the trial at the Old Bailey, where Josie's assailant was sentenced to ten years imprisonment; and the effect of the trial on her family. Her father Fergal (Lorcan Cranitch) reacts in a caring manner, but cannot empathize with Josie's feelings; her mother (Jane Whittenshaw), a devout Catholic, encourages her to go to Mass, but Josie suspects that her mother half-blames her for "encouraging" the rape due to her propensity for wearing provocative clothing. Josie's sister, the teenage Shauna (Deeivya Meir) shows some compassion, but her mother likewise chides her for her choice of attire. Through such statements Josie comes to believe that the rape is somehow her own fault, and the Polish assailant is "innocent" of the crime.
The play's central conflict focuses on the relationship between Josie and Natalie. The therapist comes across as a thoroughly professional, completely insensitive person, with a repertory of strategies to help her victims come to terms with their experiences but absolutely no understanding of how they actually feel. Throughout their sessions Natalie praises Josie for her "bravery," but we get the sense that these statements are cliched; the kind of thing Natalie has been taught to say in her therapist's course.
In the end Josie looks for some other form of succour and finds it one night when an unidentified man (Jim Norton) encourages her to set aside the daily cares of life and follow the path of religion. Josie duly obliges; she changes her name to Etian - an old Gaelic name for rebirth - and casts aside everyone in her past life - therapist, criminals and family alike. With her new-found faith she understands that the rape was a life-changing experience, in which her soul could ascend heavenwards even during the act of abuse. The play ends positively with Etian taking on the role of counsellor for other rape victims at her new home, a convent in Limerick.
Etian was a powerful, disturbing piece containing graphic descriptions of Josie's rape. Her tones of extreme emotion contrasted starkly with Natalie's malted molasses voice, all mock-concern and studied detachment. In view of her lack of engagement, it was hardly surprising that Josie should have changed her identity as well as her way of life. At the same time I felt slightly uneasy with the material: Etian was penned by a man, and at times it seemed as if the description of Josie's suffering was being presented for our delectation, with the emphasis placed on the sensuous aspects: the rapist's breath, the victim's gasps, the slow removal of Josie's panties and the act of penetration. Such material is bound to seem unpleasant; but I did feel that much of it was extraneous to the play's central theme, which was less about Josie's rape and more about her reactions to it afterwards. The director was Peter Kavanagh.