Bindweed – Arcola Theatre, London

Reviewer: Daniel Spicer

Writer: Martha Loader

Director: Jennifer Tang

Bindweed pulls us into and holds us in the awkward space of a domestic abuse perpetrators’ rehabilitation group. Some of the participants are there under court order, some are there voluntarily, but all have considerable discomfort discussing their actions in front of their newly-hired course facilitator Jen (Laura Hanna). Men in this world are forces of violence and destruction. Jen commands the room where they must challenge that.

Inside the group, the men try to hold each other to account, surrounded by grey chairs both on stage and overhead. It’s a set that looks impressive when first entering the space, but sadly does little to affect the show’s impact. Outside of the group, current and future generations of men in Jen’s life behave in sinister ways. In the thicket of Bindweed’s world, men are universally unpleasant. Even those we’re told are “fine” are unpleasant, and when the perpetrators’ group are given leave to discuss anything other than their heinous acts, they’re aggressive or downright misogynistic. It’s a harsh view of men, difficult to stare at but powerful, nonetheless. We’re told that it’s not about Jen, but about the men in the group, however, the play can’t resist looking to Jen’s life outside of the group for some semblance of humanity.

In search of this relief, Bindweed revolves around Jen, however, she is also deeply flawed. Bindweed is very brave to make all its main characters unlikable. Jen has many moments of unprofessional outbursts and is not made any more sympathetic by her history as an equally unprofessional police constable.

High Tide’s work focuses on the writer, and therefore great respect is given to Martha Loader’s words, down to exact timings of overlapping speech. This, however, is to the detriment of the performance, as at times the emotion is sacrificed in favour of exact line delivery. However, there are many moments of lightness to help the harder issues land. Director Jennifer Tang and the cast give these moments space to land, with Shailan Gohil carrying most of the comedic responsibility.

Bindweed is best suited to fans of naturalistic dialogue about serious issues. It’s commendable that Loader’s writing is so willing to look at the unpleasant tangle of trauma in and around violent men. It’s also commendable how willing it is to explore the ugly side of rehabilitation – how hopeless it can feel at times. Unfortunately, it never seems clear on what position it wants to take and does not emphatically leave an impression of what its big questions are.

Runs until 13 July 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Knotty issue-led naturalism

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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