Interview With…Alex Gwyther

The actor and writer chatted to Emma Clarendon about his new play Ripped, playing at The Actors Centre on the 22nd and 23rd July before heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Hi Alex thanks so much for talking to me. Could you explain a little more about what ‘Ripped’ is about? After being raped in an unprovoked attack by a stranger, Jack steps into the absurd world of modern masculinity to transform himself into a ‘real man’. It explores why 96% of all male rape cases go unreported and examines the pressures put on young men to conform to outdated ideals of masculinity.

How did the idea for the play come about? I’ve always wanted to write a show about masculinity and attempt to understand why particular men act the way they do. It was when I was touring a show to sixth formers and colleges on sex and relationships that was the real catalyst. At the end of the show my character delivered a monologue in a police station revealing he’d been raped by another character, much to the shock of the students. They’d often respond with fits of laughter and pointing. In the workshops afterwards I always used to ask them if it were a girl confessing, through gritted teeth, she’d been raped would you be laughing? They always responded with No! Cos’ it would be a girl! That response always resonated with me and why the students responded differently if it were a woman compared to a man. The more I performed that monologue to that kind of reaction, the more it made me question their response. That’s when I began researching the topic and saw the direct links with masculinity and how we frame it.

It’s quite an emotional topic to create a play on – how did you feel as you were writing it? The script is varied in its tone from comical and funny to poignant, harrowing and emotional. Some parts were fun to write, others required a very different mindset. I was fortunate enough to speak with Duncan Craig, the CEO of Survivors Manchester who confirmed statistics and provided me with a wealth of knowledge and understanding which was incredibly useful for the play, particularly the more harrowing scenes.

How are you feeling about taking Ripped up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe?  I am incredibly excited to bring such an important and topical story to audiences at the Fringe, especially at the Underbelly. We’ve had some very positive feedback with what we’ve shared so far, which has been very encouraging. We’re really stripping things back and sharing something which is simple and raw, so I hope it’ll stay with Fringe audiences long after they’ve left the space.

There are so many different reasons why men don’t speak up and report their rape experiences – what would you say the main reason behind this is? There are so many reasons and I couldn’t pin point it down on to one. I think a major contributing factor is how we frame “masculinity” and the language we use around it. We are still battling with the age old dogma that men have to be tough, strong, indestructible, emotionless. It is outdated and refers back to a supposed “golden era of men”. When it comes to linking this with sexual assault, the act in itself directly contradicts and challenges this precious sense of masculinity. Living in a society where we’re still being marketed this image of masculinity means men don’t come forward due to the shame and ridicule they could potentially face. Just like the students who laughed at my character’s police confession, it goes against what we have been taught a man should be. One of the most interesting facts I’ve learnt is that the majority of the perpetrators of male rape identify themselves as heterosexual and it is done out of a need to dominate or asset some sort of power and control over another human. There is something fundamentally wrong with how we frame masculinity. It is almost primitive.

How do you think this could be changed? It’s the responsibility of everyone. Obviously the media play a vital role in changing this as the images we see and respond to shape and influence our attitude. What we teach children and the language we use is also an important element. Just look at the toys children are bombarded with at an early age. It’s just about actively questioning your own current views. I was in the gym the other day and heard someone say to his friend “Ha! There was a girl in there lifting more than you!” – comments like that serve no one and just perpetuate outdated ideals and stereotypes. It’s small, yes, but extremely significant. Finally, I think we should drop this whole “golden image of a man” we have to aspire to which comes in many forms depending on your age, race, sexual orientation etc. I think this is what is stopping many men living free and happy lives.

What can audiences expect from the show? A tender, funny and harrowing piece about one young man’s journey to fit in, convince himself he’s ok and keep a lid on his past.

By Emma Clarendon

Ripped will play at The Actors Centre in London on the 22nd and 23rd July before heading to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from the 1st to the 25th August.

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