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Section 24 of the criminal code : navigating veracity and verisimilitude in verbatim theatre

By Natalie Faulkner


This research project comprises a stage play Section 24 of the Criminal Code, and accompanying exegesis, which focuses upon the experience of a woman accessing the Criminal Justice system after she is raped. The play is in the verbatim model and draws upon court transcript, which is deconstructed to reveal the workings of Defence counsel 'storylines' and meta-narratives of gender, sexual availability and power. The exegesis investigates attitudes toward rape and rape victims perpetuated by Australian popular culture, and the way that myths about false rape complaints and 'deserving victims' continue to influence the reporting and conviction rates for rape. The thesis argues that recent reforms have yet to make an impact on the conviction rate or experience of women accessing the Justice system, because of entrenched misogyny within the system itself. Several factors contribute to widespread ignorance of the reality of our own Criminal Justice system, and the thesis proposes that a work of verbatim theatre may redress the paucity of understanding that enables the dysfunction of the current system. The paper explores the different approaches taken by Verbatim theatre practitioners and the appropriateness of the Verbatim theatre model for communicating this particular (lived) experience. Questions of ownership over one's story, and representation in that story indicate the emancipatory potential of a work. Where practitioners do not have a personal connection to their subject matter or material and access material that is already in the public domain, they may feel a greater freedom to manipulate story and character for dramatic effect, or to suit an activist agenda for change. It is shown that a playwright with a personal connection to her material and subject must address issues of ownership, ethical representation, veracity and verisimilitude when creating a piece of verbatim theatre. Preferencing the truth of the Complainant Woman's experience over the orthodoxies of the well-made play may contribute to a negative response to the work from male audiences. However, the thesis concludes that the subject of rape and its prosecution invokes a gendered response in itself, and ultimately questions the desirability of presenting a play that delivers a palatable story rather than an unpleasant truth

Topics: Verbatim theatre, transcript theatre, Australian Justice system, rape and sexual assault, deserving victim, false rape, autobiography, testimonio, life history, feminist theatre, playwrighting, practice as research.
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2007
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