Theo Toksvig-Stewart: 'We need to tell stories where men take ownership of responsibility.'

  • The List
  • 5 August 2019

This article is from 2019

Endless Second: 'We need to tell stories where men take ownership of responsibility.'

Creator of Endless Second discusses the role of culture in the political landscape and how it informed his show

Theo Toksvig-Stewart is no stranger to the intersection of art and activism; son of Sandi Toksvig and Peta Stewart, his upbringing has ensured that he has long been aware of the vital role of culture in the political landscape. Staged with the aspiration of pushing for change, writer Theo talks about why he felt making Endless Second was essential in the current environment.

I wrote Endless Second in response to a number of conversations I had with female friends where they disclosed personal accounts of sexual assault and harassment. I then became interested in the active role men can play in the conversation through ownership of responsibility.

I had known for a while that I wanted to write a play about consent, but that in itself is quite a broad goal. Consent is a small word to encapsulate the huge range of devastating experiences it represents. I started to think about the stories of rape I'd seen portrayed in the arts thus far. I was surprised when I couldn't think of many examples where consent was the key aspect of the story. It became clearer to me that one of the most complex aspects of consent, is that of consent within relationships. Statistically speaking, a woman is most likely to be raped by her partner or someone she knows, yet our stereotype is that of a stranger in a dark alley, because that's the story that we've been collectively fed. It's easier to confront the idea of a stranger doing this, rather than someone we love. Of course, there are instances where this does happen, but I felt we need to start looking at the messy side where things aren't so clear cut. That's why the play focuses on a relationship and a supportive, loving, equal one at that.

The inspiration for this really came from a Ted Talk by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger. Tom was on an exchange to Iceland from Australia as a teenager when he met Thordis. They became a couple, but one night after a party he raped her. Their book South of Forgiveness (highly recommend) deals with their journey from rape to reconciliation. This book was eye-opening for me as to the power of responsibility to resolve and heal trauma. This was the catalyst that really set the wheels in motion; we need to tell stories where men take ownership of responsibility.

For too long rape has been the sub-plot in popular culture, something that often feels thrown in to add drama. This nonchalance almost makes it feel expected; it's an 'easy' dramatic tool. What I've tried to do with the play is make rape and it's affects the primary focus because, based on the conversations I've had with women who have suffered from sexual violence, the aftermath is all-consuming. There is another problem with the relative artistic silence around consent. The fewer stories we tell, the more the ones we do are held up to this impossible standard, as they have to represent the issues they touch in their entirety. This leaves little space for the nuanced experience of individual stories and means we don't get to interrogate the root of the issue with any specificity.

Some people may question what right I have as a man to write a play about consent, and I understand those concerns. I would hate to feel that my play is yet another 'mansplain' to women about something they understand only too well. However, the play isn't just about the female experience, it's about the male experience too. I strongly believe men have to take a more active role in the conversation around consent.

It is vital that women feel safe and supported to open up about their experiences of sexual violence, but we need to start creating that space for men too. I don't mean we need to crack out the tiny violins for a pity-parade about how hard it is to be a man these days. We need that space so men can challenge their pre-conceptions of consent and provide the opportunity for reflection and behavioural change. I'm by no means saying all men are rapists, but as we've seen from #MeToo, nearly every woman has at least one story of sexual harassment or violence. That means there must be a huge amount of men who are unwilling to admit fault, or worse, unaware of fault in the first place.

We can't afford to let this fall under the category of a 'woman's-issue'; we have to make it a man's issue too. I strongly believe supportive, safe and open discourse is the best way to affect social change. It's clear from the last few years that we have a systemic societal crisis of mindset towards sexual violence; now we need to confront it. This play definitely does not have all the answers; it just tells the story of these two people who truly love each other and who struggle to deal with a trauma that fundamentally changes the nature of their relationship. This play wouldn't be where it is or what it is today without the incredible women, both on the creative team and in my personal life, who have helped guide and push the story to its full creative potential. I believe we have created a complex, nuanced and human piece of theatre. I hope it will ask questions of the audience. I hope it will create and add to the discussion. I hope it will stay in people's minds. If it does any of these, that's good enough for me.

Endless Second, Pleasance Courtyard, until 26 Aug (not 13), 3.15pm, £10.50 (£9.50)

Endless Second

  • 4 stars

A new play about a couple in love who need to re-evaluate their thoughts and assumptions on rape after a night gone wrong.