Earlier this year, Swedish singer-songwriter, Jenny Wilson, spoke to The 405’s Andrew Darley about Exorcism, her latest album, written and recorded in the aftermath of a sexual assault. “In the first place I was uncertain if I would be able to tell this horrible story at all. I didn’t want to talk about rape, but I knew I would have to”, she explained.

Exorcism was the start of that voyage, which now continues with Who’s Afraid Of Jenny Wilson?, a commission by Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre, Dramaten.

Who’s Afraid Of Jenny Wilson? is neither pop concert nor musical theatre (in the West-End/Broadway sense of the term). Rather, it heralds Dramaten’s new series of Performance Concerts where a musician, together with a theatre director, devises a performance using theatrical conventions. The format gives voice to innovative performing arts and artists that do not necessarily fit in the theatre’s regular repertoire and Wilson’s collaboration with director Py Huss-Wallin and designer Hanna Kisch thus takes the form of a music-driven dramatised tale. At its core is a portrayal of a sexual assault survivor harnessing the forces unleashed by the horrific events befalling her to evolve from victim to victor.

Performed predominantly in Swedish, it is a credit to Huss-Wallin’s direction and Wilson’s performance that Who’s Afraid Of Jenny Wilson? transcends language in the telling of its story.

The songs themselves are taken from Wilson’s next album, an orchestral record originally intended to be released in tandem with Exorcism as Exorcism II. Instead, Wilson decided to let Exorcism shine on its own for a while and, whilst the tracks on the orchestral album are all in English, for the purpose of Who’s Afraid Of Jenny Wilson?, the selected compositions have been re-written in Swedish and given a musical arrangement that stands more in line with the electronic, synth-based sensibility of her current release.

The music throughout the show is, as you would expect from Wilson, terrific. The beats, the production and her powerful voice underscore the dramatic action perfectly and here and there you also get to hear parts of the orchestral arrangements recorded with SON Orchestra in Linköping last year. It’s an exciting hint of what’s to come in 2019.

The performance begins with Wilson lying down on a sofa, in the immediate moments after the assault. Her character is sombre, exhausted and frail. Joined on stage by seven movement performers (dancers from Stockholm’s ballet academy, Balettakademien), Wilson’s character finds herself browbeaten by nightmares and anxieties (given physical representation by the ensemble, wearing masks created by Eva-Maria Holm) - they haunt and harass: hands sneaking in from crevices and folds in the sofa will not leave her alone, demonising her and disturbing her sought-after quiet.

The cast, including Wilson, are then transformed into a wall of women who, at first, look as though they are standing together, somewhat shell-shocked but nevertheless united. Soon enough, however, they lose their strength and begin to collapse on the floor. Some are helped back up, some are left to succumb to the waning of their powers. The scene calls to mind the divide between – on the one hand - the vast majority of women who have stood by each other in the organic creation of and support under the #MeToo movement and – on the other – those who have rejected the movement’s premise or indeed those who have witnessed abuse and allowed it to continue unchecked. Here I must take a moment to acknowledge that I write this observation from a male perspective and I accept that my grasp of nuance in this regard cannot, therefore, be as intricate as a woman’s. I make the point purely so as to describe the thoughts that went through my mind watching this scene.

Wilson is subsequently left alone on stage, standing under a single spotlight at the front to deliver a harrowing monologue that retraces her steps on the night of the assault and tells the audience in an open and honest manner exactly what happened during those fateful hours. She looks the audience in the eyes as she recounts the events. Here and there emotion threatens to get the better of her but she doesn’t let it.

She goes on, defiant.

In a speech that is at no point comfortable to hear, perhaps the most uneasy detail she mentions towards the end is how the perpetrator had the gall to say to her “titta på mig! titta på mig!” [“look at me! Look at me!”].

For anyone who has watched Wilson’s recent music video for ‘Rapin*’, the story embodied in the monologue will be familiar, as Gustaf Holtenäs’s animated retelling of the events of the night in question loyally depict the facts which Wilson has bravely shared. Coincidentally, on the day that The 405 catches Who’s Afraid Of Jenny Wilson?, it is announced that Holtenäs’s visual has beaten the likes of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ and Michel Gondry’s video for Julien Clerc’s ‘À vous jusqu'à la fin du monde’ to win the Best Music Video in the 2018 Geneva International Film Festival.

The discomfort brought about by Wilson’s monologue does not, at its end, dissipate for long. Once she leaves the stage, the dancers return and, in a segment that aims to and succeeds in making one squirm in one’s seat, they begin to portray the patriarchal preconceptions of how a woman is commonly perceived: the perky, giggling airhead; the seductress; the slut. It is difficult to watch but suddenly comes a shift, as the performers move from the lewd simulation where they are cast as sexual gratifiers to a scene in which they transform into perpetrators, complete with masculine gestures and sounds.

This is where emancipation of spirit and empowerment begin slowly to stake their claim. Wilson’s return to the stage after a costume change is preceded by the dancers performing a cutesy dance to the Disney classic, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ from Three Little Pigs. Suitably, the band members, August Zachrisson, Klabbe Hörngren and Mikael Häggström don pig masks and, when Wilson reappears in a glittering blue jumpsuit and a furry stole, smoking a cigar with bravado, she is no longer the injured party, rather - she is now that big bad wolf that has come to take revenge at the pig that put her through her ordeal. Having endured the traumatic experience, she now uses it for her own growth and, if you like, resurrection.

And so comes the question at the heart of this production – who’s afraid of who. It is a line from one of the songs on Exorcism (‘Disrespect Is Universal’) and it flips the idea of a victim afraid of her attacker. Instead, it points to the power that this creative mind has to wreak havoc and bring about change. The premise of the show, therefore, ties in with the lyrics of the track. In the final minute of 'Disrespect Is Universal', Wilson addresses her assailant directly: “Sure, you can regret your mistake but hey, it is too late, you’ve got to live with this shame, instead. Look who’s haunting who, I’ll come back to you, you’ll never forget - I’ve got the talent to tell.”

Our hour with Wilson and her ensemble comes to a close with a large group of women, all dressed in black, joining them on stage. They stand there in line for a good couple of minutes, expressionless, looking the audience straight in the eyes. Through the darkness and through the nightmares they are an army and together they will take back the night.

Wilson then lets a warm smile break the moment.

She goes on, defiant.

Who’s Afraid of Jenny Wilson? continues at Dramaten until 2 December 2018. For tickets and more information click here.