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Sexual politics in tough online drama

Holly Wilkinson in Us Too: Alisha's Story
Holly Wilkinson in Us Too: Alisha's Story

Newcastle's Open Clasp Theatre Company will launch a hard-hitting play Us Too: Alisha’s Story on December 3 – the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Co-created with women with learning disabilities who have previously reported sexual assault and domestic violence to the police, the play reveals that people with learning disabilities are at higher risk of sexual abuse and that when sexual assaults are reported to police, they are less likely to result in a conviction.

Durham University, with Rape Crisis in the region and Northumbria Police, also found the criminal justice system creates barriers to justice for people with learning disabilities or autism who report rape and sexual assault.

Us Too is a group with learning disabilities, autism or both, whose members have experienced domestic abuse.

Holly Wilkinson plays Alisha, in her first professional acting role. A brain injury survivor with autism, Holly said, “I don’t think there is enough representation of disabled performers within the acting industry, which is something that really needs to change. Performers with disabilities need to be seen and heard! It's really exciting to be a part of this journey, and really humbling to think this film will go on to help other women and girls in similar situations.”

Open Clasp launched a workforce development programme earlier this year, in which the company collaborated with four writers for the first time. Alisha’s Story is Julie Tsang’s writing debut for Open Clasp. Julie is an award-winning writer – a recipient of the John Mather Trust Rising Star Award with the National Theatre of Scotland and a winner of Scotland’s Short Play award. Her work has been performed at Oxford Playhouse and several other theatres, and her play The Family Unit was featured at the Women Playwrights International Conference in Montreal earlier this year. She is currently developing a TV series. Director Katja Roberts is creative director of award-winning Meerkat Films, which has collaborated with Open Clasp on theatre to film projects before.

Catrina McHugh co-founded Open Clasp in 1998, placing theatre at the heart of ways to transform the lives of women and girls. She was awarded an MBE in 2017 for outstanding services to disadvantaged women through theatre.

“Even before the pandemic we had moved online, capturing work on film, streaming across worlds and continents," she explained. "We could see the impact and reach when theatre meets film. This commission raises its fist and demands an end to violence against women and girls.”

Us Too: Alisha’s Story will also be used in an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project to develop criminal justice practice in Durham in 2023. A skilled team from Open Clasp will use the film to train 200 police officers at Durham Constabulary next April and May.

Watch Us Too: Alisha’s Story will be available online from December 3-10, 2022. British Sign Language and subtitles are available.

Info and tickets here


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