Mistaken Identity Theatre Company’s ambitious piece of gig theatre Rum & Coke tackles themes such as domestic abuse, alcohol abuse, and mental health, but is a show that deals with them in a way that feels both important and necessary. The performance opens with a punchy electronic soundtrack underscored by the hum of scattered conversation whilst brightly coloured flashing lights merge into snippet scenes of beer bottles and fag rolling. This establishes that we are in a nightclub.
In the second scene of Rum & Coke, we see Iove, played by Valia Katsi in a bathroom. Her boyfriend Dan has assaulted her (not for the first time) on a night out. The excruciatingly honest monologue that she delivers here is highly evocative. The way the voiceover never quite matches the movements her mouth makes combined with a voltaic soundtrack and her inability to acknowledge the camera is just exquisite. At this moment, Rum & Coke thought-provokingly conveys the period of realisation and dizziness, where Iove keeps trying to convince herself that it didn’t really happen: because how could someone she is so in love with do that to her? Anyway, even if it did happen, it’s just not that bad, right?
Mistaken Identity Theatre Company’s Rum & Coke is a show that I cannot separate from Michaela Coel’s devastatingly powerful I May Destroy You, which has been hailed as a TV gamechanger. And rightly so. In I May Destroy You, Arabella is raped at a bar on a night out but unlike Iove, she doesn’t know her attacker. Both Rum & Coke and I May Destroy You have similar narrative arcs, where the experiences of both Arabella’s friends Kwame and Terry and the experiences of Iove’s university housemates Aditi (Uditi Singh), Ayla (Sidal Kekilli), and Jay (Matthew Bevan) are considered in relation to the assault. This is a rarity in both British theatre and British TV. Shows like these serve as an important reminder that it is not just the people who experience incidents of abuse that are affected. Experiences like this extend to our friends and family, and the pain felt transcends.
Both Rum & Coke and I May Destroy You dramatise the feeling that no matter what we say or do, you can’t always stop the people around you from making grave mistakes. Both this piece of gig theatre and Coel’s TV show dramatise how awful it feels when there is nothing that anyone can say or do to take that pain away. For Iove, Arabella, or anyone.
Whilst Iove’s assault is not the focus of the entirety of Rum & Coke: it provides the backdrop for moments of character interaction over Facetime and solo scenes from each housemate directly to the camera, which comes later. Jay, Ayla, and Aditi’s reactions are delivered directly to us. We see a group of friends discuss the aftermath of the event and try to assess the best way to delicately care for their friend, and her situation. Rum & Coke beautifully deals with the internal anguish of not quite knowing the right thing to say, once again in a similar fashion to I May Destroy You. The form of the piece – voiceovers layered over close-up shots of the actor’s reactions in time to a soundtrack convey the disjuncture between what we wish we could say, how we react, and the struggle between both of these.
Mistaken Identity Theatre Company’s Rum & Coke, much like Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You encourages us to keep having tough conversations. Because if we don’t talk about consent and healthy relationships, how will we ever understand what both of these things truly mean?