Fabric – Soho Theatre, London

Writer: Abi Zakarian

Director: Hannah Hauer-King

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

We place an awful lot of emphasis on clothing at various times in our life. What we wear to a first date; what the cut of a fine suit says about us; the burden of selecting the right wedding dress. And, all too often, the implication that what a woman is wearing when she is raped is somehow complicit in the man’s crime.

Abi Zakarian’s powerful script, delivered in monologue form by Nancy Sullivan, starts off breezily, with Sullivan revealing the central character of Leah to a bright, bubbly Essex girl who finds herself swept off her feet by a handsome customer of the Savile Row tailors where she works.

As the relationship develops, we are gradually introduced to a series of supporting characters, from Leah’s man-hungry best friend and flatmate to her boyfriend Ben’s haughty mother. But amid all the breeziness, a shadow briefly falls across Sullivan’s face when voicemail messages intrude from the present, interrupting Leah’s relating of her story.

In Zakarian’s hands, Leah has an engaging way with words: her honeymoon destination, the Maldives, is something she describes as “flattened by sunshine a perfect experiment by the colour blue”. We are drawn into her world, and her world view, completely: so it becomes all the more painful when she is assaulted.

The first assault comes on her wedding night, as she acquiesces to her new husband’s violent, aggressive sex, attempting to rationalise it away as pleasing him on their special night. The seeds are sown then: bumping into a friend of her husband’s while on a girl’s night out, he reveals he knows what Ben did to her, and has been told how much she loved it.

What follows carries a dread inevitability. Sullivan draws us into the world where she knows what happened, but narrates events both as she saw them and as a defence barrister would seek to frame what can be seen on CCTV in ways that would suit their client.

This duality at the heart of the narration is what prevents this upsetting scene from drifting into prurience. It is a canny move, and helps keep Fabricfrom becoming another play that uses violence against women for entertainment.

The final scenes, with Leah struggling to come to terms with what happened and struggling to regain her voice, are if anything even more heartbreaking than the recounting of her rape.

Throughout it all, Sullivan excels, in a performance which is as subtle as it is heartbreaking.

Continues until 22 September 2018 | Image: Contributed

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