BREVIEW: Asking for It @ Birmingham REP – running until 15.02.20

Words by Emma Curzon / Promotional image by Hugh O’Connor

This searing production is a play that demands to be seen: a bleak, rage-filled tragedy that shines an unflinching spotlight on 21st-century rape culture and refuses to let you look away.

Hosted by the Birmingham REP, after a highly-acclaimed run at Ireland’s National Theatre, Asking for It was adapted for the stage by Irish playwright Meadhbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, from the novel of the same name by Louise O’Neill.

The premise is as simple as it is horrific: Emma, a teenage girl from a small town in County Cork, is gang-raped at a party; the rapists take photos of the attack and post them online. Cue a brutal, sickening spiral into slut-shaming and victim blaming by everyone from journalists and radio callers, to neighbours, classmates and her own parents, in a twisted form of collective punishment for “ruining those good boys’ lives” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much – that’s the horrifying part).

There are three main pillars to the play’s considerable strength: the expert writing of McHugh (and O’Neill), Comyn’s direction, and a truly stellar performance by Coe. In fact, I can honestly say that the Dublin-grown actress gives one of the most heart-rending portrayals of a trauma survivor that I’ve ever seen.

Coe moves seamlessly between numb depression, terrified panic attacks, and horrified despair. She is an unforgettable – no, powerful presence, even as her character becomes smaller, more vulnerable and more traumatised by the second. The rest of the cast, too, give strong performances, particularly Dawn Bradfield as Emma’s mother and Liam Heslin as her well-meaning but ineffective brother.

No review of this play, either, should overlook its non-human elements. Here, the metaphorical Oscar goes to Paul O’Mahony’s set, a monochrome structure of glass boxes and panels that are moved around to create various settings, and onto which flickering, blurry video footage is projected. Both are brilliantly deployed to highlight Emma’s downward spiral as she becomes more and more trapped, both physically and mentally. Eventually, the set has enclosed the entire stage to make the walls and roof of her kitchen, by which point she is too traumatised and stigmatised to leave the house.

The choices of soundtrack were commendable too, although I do question the realism of incorporating an admittedly excellent dance routine to David Guetta’s ‘Hey Mama’. I’m not saying teen parties are devoid of David Guetta, but I’m pretty sure they don’t include perfectly synchronised, choreographed dance sets.

The main downside of the play is that parts of the narrative are left underdeveloped. McHughs is admirably thorough with Emma’s development, but other characters are neglected. Despite lengthy periods in Act 1 being spent on Emma’s peers, including brief monologues, they – including a friend who has also been assaulted – rapidly vanish, never to be seen again. It spends too much time, by contrast, on Emma’s appearance (if she were less “beautiful”, she wonders, would that night have happened?) rather than acknowledging that a rapist can target anyone, no matter what they look like.

Still, any flaws are generally forgivable given as the play has a clear aim and, in my mind, more than achieves it. It’s a hard-hitting, bitter dissection of the hell of rape and its aftermath – a snarl of defiance against a world that still, too often, blames rape victims (especially women) for their assaults. It’s a refusal to be silenced and ignored when many would like nothing better than to look away, and a defiant claiming of a voice for the millions of real-life Emmas all over the world, even as their fictional counterpart’s own voice is slowly eroded away into nothing.

In the REP foyer, a few volunteers from Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) set up a stand with flyers advertising their helpline. In the women’s bathrooms, on the insides of the cubicle doors, a poster asks me: has this play affected me in any way? If so, it then gives the numbers for BSWA and the Rape & Sexual Violence Project.

Leaving the theatre, I have to wonder – did anyone in the audience call either number? Did the play bring up memories of their own, similar experiences? With around 85,000 women and 12,000 men experiencing rape or attempted rape in England and Wales every year, there’s a distinct possibility that the answer is ‘yes’. And that, more than anything else, is why this play is so desperately needed.

Asking for It – official trailer

Asking for It runs at the Birmingham REP until Saturday 15th February, with evening shows and matiness shows on Saturday 8th and Thursday 13th February. For more details, including the full show schedule and links to online ticket sales, visit

**Please note: Asking for It is recommended for 14+. The show contains scenes of a sexual nature, strong language and violence** 

For more on Asking for It, 

For more from the Birmingham REP, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit


NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

OPINION: When someone says rape…

Words by Ed King / Lead image provided by Getty Images

I want you to remember your best sexual experience. I want you to relive it, in every detail, the most pleasurable and safe experience you’ve ever had with a lover.

I want you to remember where you were, what you wore, what you had to eat and to drink. I want you to remember what they wore, until they wore nothing. I want you to remember what they ate and they drank.

I want you to remember every step of the sex itself – every physical touch and every emotion that went with it. I want you to remember what they did first, what they did last. I want you to establish a timeline. I want you to remember the strength of their body, if their skin was hot, cold, rough, or smooth. I want you to remember if, at any point, you smiled. Or laughed, even if you didn’t mean to. I want you to remember them entangled with you. I want you to paint a vivid picture of the flesh and the thoughts and the sweat and the noise.

Now I want you to go into the street and tell the first person you meet, a stranger. Tell them everything.

Now I want you to do the same for your worst sexual experience.


This is an exercise in empathy I saw the Birmingham based Rape & Sexual Violence (RSVP) organisation deliver, to a group of venue operators and licensees at a South Side Pub Watch meeting. It was a ‘tough crowd’, fidgeting through a hot afternoon and a meeting they were obligated to attend. But this stopped the room. This made us think. Can you imagine actually doing that…?

The idea is to put yourself in the position of a victim of sexual assault, to help you to respond to any cases of sexual violence that might happen around you. To better understand what a victim of sexual assault would have to go through just to report what had happened to them – just to start a criminal investigation, to hold a rapist to account, to get justice. To stop it happening again.

It gets worse for the victim too, this is only the first step – the next is a line of cross examination to see if they would be a viable voice in court, with all the clichés and rebuttals that circle cases of sexual violence like patriarchal vultures. Did you lead them on? Did you know them? Did you act like you wanted sex? Were you drinking? Were you high? Was your clothing too sexy? Did you laugh at their jokes? Did you actually say the word ‘no’…?

But the RSVP exercise has stuck with me as a powerful way to put yourself in this terrible situation, even by proxy, and to allow even only a thin line of understanding for the process a victim of sexual violence will have to go through when they report what happened to them. Just the process of reporting it. Not the violence. Just the admin around it.

This pub watch meeting was over a year ago, but it came back into my head the other day when a social media post about sexual violence in Birmingham’s music scene got challenged – in a rather immediate and short sighted response, ‘evidence’ was asked for. Now this is not an attack on anyone for being involved in this conversation, debate and open discussion is healthy. And there is a side of me that says fair enough, evidence is important. Crucial in a courtroom. As a journalist reporting on anything, not just cases of sexual violence, I would be screaming “facts, figures, and cross referencing,” into my laptop.

Also, to be falsely accused of sexual violence must be a terrible experience – it does happen, you can’t and shouldn’t say it doesn’t. People of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of lies.

But the bigger problem – the much more serious, pressing, and pertinent issue – are all the cases of rape, sexual assault, violence, coercion, abuse, and manipulation that never get reported. With all the sexual aggressors that continue to normalise their heinous actions because the victim is too scared, too wounded, too vulnerable or unsupported to go through the reporting process. Because people of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of causing pain.

So, what do we do? Being involved in the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign has been, and remains to be, a significant learning curve for me – there was a point when I may have been the one calling for something to back up someone’s claim. Although I would like to think I would have done this at a later stage, off social media, and only if it was relevant for me to do so (i.e. not challenging someone who I didn’t know about something I was not privy to). And we are all fallible.

Plus, working with RSVP and the sexual violence and modern slavery team at West Midlands Police has helped me shape my understanding – something not everyone gets the chance to experience. But the first step to take around cases of sexual violence is relatively simple.

You listen.

Start there. Listening helps. Listening empowers people to recall and recant the most hideous of experiences, and to find strength to do it clearly – explaining the facts, figures and ‘evidence’ that someone at the appropriate stage will be looking for.

But the point of right and wrong, of truth and lies, is a few steps down the line. And we’re only at the first – you rarely know the veracity of what anybody is telling you, about anything, from an opening statement. You certainly don’t know it from a post on social media. Walking into this conversation immediately asking for proof will not help someone to deliver information, to explain the situation – it will only help silence them and countless other victims who need support and who need to be heard.

So, listen. Again, start there. Don’t shut someone down because you don’t want to hear what they have to say, or because you hold crossed fingers that it will turn out to be untrue. We’re not there yet, there’s a challenging and difficult process to go through until we reach a point of cross examination – one that is designed, in essence, to begin addressing what is true and to hold people to account.

And if it helps, use the RSVP exercise – put yourself in the position of someone who has experienced sexual violence and has found the strength to talk about. To speak out. To challenge it. To seek help and to seek help for others.

There is an old and troubling adage that if you’re being raped then you should shout “fire”, because people would be more likely to come to your aid.

What would you want the first response to be?

Ed King is the campaign lead for NOT NORMAL NOT OK, challenging sexual violence in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play. For more on NOT NORMAL NOT OK, visit

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence and want to seek advice or support, visit or email

NOT NORMAL NOT OK: Safe & Sound @ ACM Birmingham 28.11.19

Words & pics by Genevieve Miles

As part of their enrichment programme at the end of 2019, the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) in Birmingham hosted a special Safe & Sound event on Thursday 28th November – presenting a day of seminars and activities about safeguarding within the music industry.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK were invited to open the event, with the campaign director, Ed King, asked to talk to ACM’s students about the sexual violence, aggression, and manipulation they might face – with all of ACM’s students focused on a career in music, be it on stage of off, this was an opportunity for the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign (which champions the strapline ‘from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play’) to reach a directly relevant audience.

Talking about the ongoing sticker campaign, where NOT NORMAL NOT OK attend live music events and distribute campaign logo stickers to everyone playing or partying at the gig, King was keen to encourage ACM students to embrace a visible stance against sexual violence. The NOT NORMAL NOT OK sticker campaign has been prevalent at venues across the region, creating a clearly branded environment of ‘no tolerance’ towards sexual violence at gigs, and King was eager to see the message carried by those entering the music profession.

“If we can get ACM’s students, and everyone making their first inroads into the music industry, to start confidently having the conversation about sexual violence, manipulation, and coercion, then it can have a trickle up effect as their involvement in music increases,” explains King.

“There’s a long standing and embedded culture of sexual aggression in the music industry that we need to combat, one that has been quietly abusing people across the industry for decades. But if new music professionals embrace the idea of no tolerance towards sexual violence, that will hopefully grow with them and help to change the industry landscape as a whole. It also sets a clear precedent, from the start, as sad as it is that we might need to reafirm one, on what is acceptable to those who might find themselves becoming aggressors.”

Working with a range of music promoters and artists, some less supportive than others to the campaign message, NOT NORMAL NOT OK is hopeful that with a changing of the guards these dangerous and old fashioned views will eventually die off. It is worth remembering that rape within wedlock was only made illegal in the UK from 1991 onwards.

Christopher East, Designated Safeguarding Lead at ACM – who helped organise Safe & Sound alongside Vix Perks, the Wellbeing Mentor & Mindfulness Coach at ACM Birmingham – feels it is the institution’s ‘duty’ to offer these seminars and events: “it is our duty of care to raise awareness and equip our students as best we can,” explains East – further citing the importance of being “proactive rather than reactive when it comes to tackling the many challenges that we face in society and our personal lives.”

Mirroring the direct approach and attitude of the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, East’s hopes were that ACM’s Safe & Sound events will encourage their students to be “assertive, empowered and vigilant,” which would, in turn, help prevent students from “falling into dangerous situations within their respective career paths.”

Also speaking at the ACM Safe & Sound event was Tanuja Patel from the Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid organisation – bringing the gender diverse audience into a strong discussion around safe spaces for women. Just as with King and the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign that preceded Patel’s presentation, it was encouraging to see such confident engagement from ACM’s student body. The day was rounded off with a Krav Maga workshop, demonstrating the combined fighting system and offering simple tips on physical self-defense.

I was also invited to perform a few songs from my own portfolio, taking the stage once the dust had settled from the two seminars that began the day – giving me a chance to represent the musicians who want to support and see positive change.

As a performing artist, it seems necessary that a campaign such NOT NORMAL NOT OK would be at the ACM Safe & Sound event; it is so relevant to these young music lover’s lives, the venues and promoters targeted by the campaign are where the students at this event will be punters or where those in the room who aspire to be artists will one day be performing.

But this doesn’t stop in the classroom – in recent years, well known artists such as Frank Carter have interrupted their own gigs in order to call out sexual assault from within the crowd. This absence of shame or shyness can only be empowering to the no tolerance movement, encouraging young people, such as the students at ACM, to be more vocal as they build a career in the music industry.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play. To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, visit

For more on the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) Birmingham, visit

OPINION: A team effort (…we are greater than the sum of our parts)

Words by Ed King / Pic by Aatish Ramchurm

Whilst promoting the next NOT NORMAL NOT OK live gig fundraiser, being held at Centrala on 25th October, I was messaged by someone who’d just got their tickets saying: ‘thank you for making a positive difference’. Simple enough, but something in me was uncomfortable – from well planned birthday presents to professional praise I’ve been waiting too long to hear, I can feel awkward from adulation. This was different though.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK was launched just over a year ago in response to a deluge of stories we heard about sexual violence in the local live music scene. And it started where most things do, for me, as a piece of writing. Namely an op-ed featured on Birmingham Review, which originally ended on a general call to arms to tackle sexual violence – ‘we should join together and form a campaign…’ that sort of thing.

Then we thought, why not just put a campaign together and use that drum banging energy to get people to join in – the call to arms became a social media drive, with our sticker campaign as the initial outreach activity. And it went well; venues reached out in support, promoters and artists invited us to their gigs to hand out stickers, and a reasonable chunk of both the music and mainstream media got solidly behind the campaign.

We had achieved our aim of bringing the issue out of the shadows – our logo was appearing on t-shirts, guitars, drum kits, and the occasional toilet room door at venues across the city. Our social media spiked with sign ups, the mailing list gained traction, whilst countless people asked how they could get more involved. Plus, after a relatively short time, we had already started helping victims of sexual violence get the help they needed – linking them to our campaign partners at RSVP and West Midlands Police. We had even had a few curious phone calls, such as people asking “…should I be worried?” A question that answers itself if you stop and think about it.

(On that note, we would rather see someone get help to address and change their negative behaviour than burn them at the stake. If you need help, whatever your problems with sexual violence, be honest and reach out.)

But from my days evaluating consumer based PR campaigns, NOT NORMAL NOT OK launched with aplomb. We had reached our audience; the singular idea had grown into a force of its own, propelled and shaped by the ongoing support of people across the city. And right there… that’s why ‘thank you’ makes me uncomfortable.

There are a team of amazing volunteers who have supported NOT NORMAL NOT OK from day one – pushing the message at gigs and handing out stickers wherever they go. There are the people who take the time to read and share our social media activity – which encourages new people to learn about the campaign and seek help if they need it. There are the venue managers and promoters that have been so embracing – allowing us into their premises and supporting our campaign teams. There’s everyone who’s bought a badge, worn a sticker, or turned up to our events. And there are our campaign partners at RSVP and West Midlands Police – who have made this into something more than just a paper tiger, helping us get the right support to those who have suffered abuse.

I waited for a few minutes before responding to the message I mentioned at the start of this article, offering: ‘Team effort – thanks to you too’, as my reply. I hope it didn’t sound ungrateful. It certainly wasn’t meant to. But the absolute truth is that the successes of the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign comes when we make that team effort, when we are greater than the sum of our parts.

I love the picture at the top of this post. It was a great gig, with everyone on stage and off sharing in a sense of real group achievement.

And we’re asking you now, as we asked when we launched this campaign, please continue to help – come to the Centrala fundraiser on 25th October, be part of the next group photo we’re planning to take. Buy a pen, buy a fridge magnet. Help us hand out more stickers at more gigs and help us reach more people via social media. Get involved.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK has made some great progress in the past year and we’re about to embark on a new outreach activity that will help us make even more – click here for more info. But this only works, really works, if we don’t do it alone. And whatever ‘thank you’s are left hanging in the air can be more deservedly shared by all of us.

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is hosting a live gig fundraiser on Friday 25th October at Centrala – with Flight Brigade, Hannah Brown and Lycio all performing live. All money raised will be used to support the venue ‘tool kit’ and staff training programme, for more info visit

Tickets are priced at £5 Early bird / £7 standard advance, then more on the door – for direct event info and links to online ticket sales, click here to visit the Facebook event page.


NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

SINGLE: ‘Hate Myself’ – Hannah Brown 20.09.19

Words by Ed King

On Friday 20th September, Hannah Brown releases her latest single – the somewhat troublingly titled, ‘Hate Myself’. Released via Brown’s own social media you can grab yourself a stop, look and listen courtesy of Soundcloud – click here or link below/ablum artwork to you left.

Launching off with a pop punk riff that makes me think of skateboards and summer, Brown’s latest single sounds more like a trailer for an American coming of age melodrama than a piece of emotional seppuku.

It’s fun, it’s vibrant; it has that slight staccato chord progression that makes me look back at my teenage years and sigh into my shoulder. But don’t be fooled, this single is entrails on the floor with a wry ‘yes, it’s your fault’ look as the last breath becomes a rattle… a fuck you, plainly put. And one that should make all those erstwhile school ‘friends’ wait nervously for the name drop.

But this isn’t a song about revenge, it’s about strength. ‘Hate Myself’, it’s quite clear; Brown is shining the light bright in her own face and casting shadows of the past that she wants kept rightfully behind her, where shadows belong. Lasting three and a half minutes, and bouncing through trauma and trouble, the song holds no punches. Especially when to the gut. It even proudly declares in its press release: ‘Hannah begins to let go of the power others previously had over the way she viewed herself, breaking the cycle that had bound her for years.’ So yeah, just in case it wasn’t clear before… fuck you.

‘Hate Myself’ continues Brown’s tradition of visceral lyrics and public therapy. But with no doom, gloom, or long sleeves in summertime to save an awkward downwards glance – this is empowerment. ‘Hate Myself’ doesn’t wallow in self-pity, it takes the bile, gives it a name, then throws it in the right direction. It’s a clarion call for the right of the righteous, as the chorus begins and ends: “I already hate myself, I don’t need anyone else… I don’t want to hate myself anymore.”

Brown is one of the more accomplished and hard working artists in the Midlands, having built her initial six string reputation into a ferocious full band sound; her material is valid and exciting. And fresh. Recent singles ‘So Should You’ and ‘Further Away’ have continued the melodic rock vibe from her awesome 2016 EP, Better for This – with melody and strong vocals leading throughout her work. And Brown’s live performances relay something so special it just can’t be recorded.

‘Hate Myself’ has been described as the single that has taken Brown ‘from folk singer songwriter to indie rocker’, and it’s certainly as radio friendly as such self-analysis is ever going to be. But hooking her work onto a genre shift doesn’t catch it for me.

What we’re witnessing, what we’re privy too, are the cracks in a chrysalis. And with this much honesty already seeping through we’re watching something of beauty start screaming to fly.

‘Hate Myself’ – Hannah Brown.

Hannah Brown releases ‘Hate Myself’ on Friday 20th September, available to stream for free via her Soundcloud page – click here. For more on Hannah Brown, including gig info and other releases, visit 

Hannah Brown will be playing at the NOT NORMAL NOT OK live gig fundraiser on 25th October at Centrala, alongside Flight Brigade and Lycio. Click here for more direct gig info and links to online ticket sales, via the Facebook event page


NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.