35 times, Bethan Morgan, Mercury Theatre Wales, Chapter

July 14, 2017 by

This co-production by RCT Theatres and Mercury Theatre Wales depicted abuse suffered by six different women. The play by Bethan Morgan explored a variety of experiences, and was inspired by real stories. The efforts to give these brave women a voice and ensure that they speak out reminded me of the play ‘Enough is Enough’ by female actors from Turkey not long ago, which highlights the contemporary nature of this pressing issue and the need to interpret it creatively.

When we entered, we were invited to sit by a table that had tea and biscuits on it, and the actors moved around us immediately. The individual story of each woman was personal and different to each other, and yet they seemed to share an awareness of suffering in its many forms. One of the women wore an apron and felt imprisoned in the kitchen, whilst an older woman knew her abuser since her childhood and became his sexual slave. Another young girl was abused by members of her family, which reminded us of the chilling fact that abusers are often familiar with the victim. Another young girl had children from different fathers and was reported to the social services by her neighbour. Amidst the blame-throwing for being nosy, we realise with a clever twist that the neighbour’s motives for getting involved is because she saw history repeating itself and decided to act as she had kept her own experiences a secret.

One of the most effective stories captured was that of emotional abuse, which opens our eyes to different types of suffering. This type is often overlooked as a grey area compared to physical abuse, and is harder to define. Some scenes were uncomfortable to watch, and many of the images created were effective and vivid. One of the most memorable for me was when one of the older women was wrapped with colourful banners on stage that signified entrapment. The young girl abused by her family was also placed on the table in a star shape, which made me think of crucifixion. She also stood on the table and wrote ‘slut’ in red lipstick on her belly, indicating the emotional impact of abuse.

The set enabled the actors to weave in our midst, spurring the audience to empathise and feel the closeness and immediacy of their experiences which are all around us in our everyday lives. However, we are often too blind to detect when abuse occurs. The individual encounters were told on the floor in a slow pace, before slowly enhancing the tension and crescendo to reach a frenzied climax on the front stage. In this context, the special effects were used to their utmost potential in order to reinforce their journeys. We saw a lot of experimenting with various colours, and I particularly liked the way flashing lights accompanied the crux of each portrayal. Sound effects by means of different songs were used to complement the expression of experiences, alternating between individual and collective singing. This technique strengthened the importance of recognising everyone’s unique story in the context of widespread trauma endured by many. The song ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ involved the audience in dancing, which was both liberating and empowering, conveying dark themes in a fun manner.

Facts about abuse were peppered to the audience between the individual characterizations, but were used subtly and avoided preaching. I liked especially when the actors came together to whisper different means of abuse as they circled around the audience, and I think Glesni Price-Jones as producer should be commended for introducing these nuances. Each actor succeeded in gaining the audience’s sympathy, but the strength that they possessed also shone through. Olwen Rees and Catrin Mai Huw stood out for me personally.

I wasn’t blown away by the originality of the production as abuse is a topic that has been discussed many times before. Despite enjoying the feminist flavour of the production, I believe we also need to open up more space to discuss domestic abuse suffered by males. However, this staging provided an alternative dimension, and the need to speak out demands to be stressed continuously. Often, incidents happen right in front of us but behind closed doors, and the shocking facts underlined in this production provided a sobering reality and made us shudder.

Until July 15, Chapter, Cardiff



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