Writer: & Director Scott James
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Domestic violence is rarely depicted on stage and it’s taken Scott James more than 10 years to create his play Between a Man and a Woman which premiered in September 2016, with subsequent runs in several fringe venues. This latest version, showing at The Lion and the Unicorn Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe, examines domestic violence from the perspective of the abuser and the abused, as well as their supporting friends and family.
Tom and Polly (Millin Thomas and Jasmin Gleeson) seem like a normal couple, but while their early courtship was full of romance, marriage has led to possessiveness, jealousy and eruptions of anger that Tom can’t control. Increasingly isolated from her devoted sister and friends, Polly is manipulated into believing Tom is acting out of love, but his proclivity for aggression stems from his own troubled childhood, which is not the only secret he’s keeping from his wife.
James’ play at 1 hour and 45 minutes without an interval is one of the longest on the fringe, but the effectiveness of its construction is a tale of two halves. There is a strong and engaging use of techniques that mix straight drama with some emotionally-led choreographed movement that works well together, and James frequently varies the pace by running scenes in parallel, as well as across different time periods as character remember key events in their lives.
The growth of Tom’s controlling, and ultimately dangerous, behaviour is also effectively charted as he first separates Polly from the external world, the utilises emotional blackmail to remove her hobbies and ensure he is her only focus, before taking passive-aggressive control of her routines and appearance, and finally convincing her that her friends are trying to control her instead of him. All of this feels well researched and unfolds convincingly.
The second half of the evening then starts to feel a little wayward, moving from this tight focus on Polly’s reactions to all the people surrounding her. And where James had subtly woven different aspects of the story together, later in the play there is far too much unnecessary exposition about what’s going on. Increasingly repetitive, events are depicted and then discussed at length which adds little to an already overlong production.
The decision to focus on Tom’s background is a useful element and the parallel stories with his brother Harry (Duncan Mitchell) and Polly’s sister Tammy (Charlotte E Tayler) add useful texture, but there are several subplots that feel entirely superfluous, including a visit to a prostitute who rants about lack of State support that has nothing really to do with Tom and Polly’s marriage, and even the comparative relationship with Siobhan does nothing except remind us that Tom is baddie, but we know this already.
Thomas and Gleeson ably carry the weight of the show, demonstrating a considerable range of emotional and physical responses to their situation as the couple move seamlessly from starry-eyed lovers to a frightened and frightening relationship. Polly brings an underlying spirit that won’t entirely accept submission, while Thomas’ ability to flip from charm to manipulation is impressively conveyed.
Among the supporting roles, Tayler is particularly good as Polly’s sister, voicing a concern and sense of rising panic at the level of helplessness she feels that is quite emotive, while Mitchell, as Harry, struggles to contain similar demons that are expressed in quite a different form.
James’ play is a valuable and interesting one, that takes an unflinching look at domestic violence and highlights how and why it continues to happen. Arguably given the various charities and refugee services available, working in some mention of this as options for Polly would give this a helpful final message, but by trimming the flabby second half, while trusting the audience to pick up on all the nuances, and the actors to convey them, this could become an important depiction of domestic violence on stage.
Runs until 12 August 2017 | Image: Contributed