Writer/ Director: Bethan Morgan
Reviewer: Jaclyn Martin
Statistically, a woman suffers physical assault from a partner on average 35 times before reporting it.
A fact from which this production arises. The subject of domestic abuse is not an easy topic to address. It’s a subject that is often only talked about in hushed tones and still considered taboo. It takes a bold company to even consider telling this story and requires sensitivity and accuracy in its approach.
Perhaps it is for this reason that writer and director, Bethan Morgan, spent a lengthy period of research and development with real women who have lived through real abuse. The result of that research is the stories told within this production; the stories of survivors.
The audience is collected from the bar by an upbeat lady with a crutch, and led through a door displaying a rudimentary sign that reads ‘Ballroom Dancing Demo’. The room beyond looks like it might be a spruced-up church hall, ready for an event; there are tea and biscuits, brightly coloured bunting and balloons, fairy lights and feather boas – part of a simple but effective set by Cerys Lewis. While we are being seated at cabaret-style tables, a couple gracefully glides around to a romantic tune, the lady’s gown shimmering under the lights. Then her partner slaps her. The tone has changed in an instant.
Beyond the initially cheerful party façade hides terrible stories of suffering. Over the course of the evening, each woman takes the mic (literally) and finds her voice through a solo performance – one timid, sweet lady sings of her abuse to the tune of Hopelessly Devoted to You, another takes to the podium and reads The Good Wife’s Guide almost as though it were a poem. The most haunting moment, however, is the clashing contrast of intermingled joy and terror as the women dance to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – a striking, visceral visual representation of their hidden trauma, invisible in their day-to-day lives under their plastic smiles.
An unfortunate, and perhaps unavoidable, side-effect of focusing so intently on the issue of female domestic abuse is a vague sense of male demonisation. Every man referred to in the story is an abuser, which could potentially give the wrong impression and draw attention away from the key issue, rather than enhance it.
The characterisation of the women is also somewhat stereotypical. They are all an identifiable type, which hinders the play’s mission to break down stereotypes. This may, however, have been a necessary compromise for telling a complex story in a short amount of time.
This is a very difficult topic to present and is equally difficult to watch. It’s easy to look away; it’s a lot harder to look it straight in the eye. This immersive, up-close approach allows a direct connection to the issue, there is no fourth wall to hide behind here and allowed everyone present front-row empathy.
Mercury Theatre has made an admirable effort of raising awareness of the issue of domestic abuse, as well as creating thought-provoking, engaging theatre. Haunting and harrowing, you won’t leave feeling lighter after watching this production, but you will leave feeling more informed and empowered.
Runs until 7 July 2017 | Image: Contributed