When the blurb says the play is based on a woman buried alive by her former partner, one suspects that A Pretty Sh*tty Love might not be an easy watch. But boy is it a powerful, mesmerising and important one.
Neither of the two protagonists Hayley and Carl have had an easy life. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so suffice to say their respective parents had issues which affected their children deeply.
Brought up (as most women were) on fairy tales and rom coms placing emphasis on finding your man being the be all and end all, when Hayley meets Carl she stifles several red flags.
Carl seems at first to have overcome his setbacks and stresses by working them out in the gym, but serious control and anger issues soon emerge.
Daniel Hawksworth and Danielle Bird
As Carl and Hayley’s tragic story unfolds the brilliant set, lighting, and sound come more and more into their own – Lulu Tam, Jess Bernberg and Alexandra Faye Braithwaite clearly worked closely together on this.
The set uses intricately put together geometric Perspex panels covered in handwriting that move as each scene requires. Two of the panels carry denser scrawl which enable light projections to be shown on them. Vibrant colour films of Hayley are projected, dimming to black and white as Carl’s control builds, trampling on the things that make Hayley who she is and give her joy. They’re used to powerful effect at the end with a tribute to Stacey Gwilliam, the woman from whose life the play takes its inspiration.
Yandass Ndlovu’s movement direction is breath-taking with both actors’ performances being incredibly physical, and Carl is seen lurking in Hayley’s monologue scenes symbolising the pressure he exerts on her constantly. Different height levels and microphones are also used to build this sense of Carl’s omnipresent control.
Both actors, Danielle Bird and Daniel Hawksford, were excellent and compelling in what I would imagine are extremely emotionally draining roles.
I was impressed by writer Katherine Chandler’s Thick as Thieves and was no less so by this play. Her dialogue is sparing and always rings true.
Director Francesca Goodridge has several assistant director credits at Theatr Clwyd productions under her belt and I remember her gamely stepping in to be Alice at the press night of Dick Whittington in 2018. It’s been rewarding to watch her career development and she should be proud of this, her first directing role at the theatre, particularly as she has a family connection to Stacey Gwilliam.
When two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner in the UK this play is all the more vital, and I loved to see Theatr Clwyd continue its excellent community outreach by having domestic abuse charities present at the theatre to offer information and support.
I’d urge audiences not to shy away from the subject matter of the play as it really succeeds in being simultaneously important and entertaining – an impeccable evening of theatre.
Images: Andrew AB Photography
A Pretty Sh*tty Love will be performed at Theatr Clwyd from Friday 8 July– Saturday 23 July in Theatr Mix. Tickets are from £10. Booking available at Theatr Clwyd’s website www.theatrclwyd.com or by calling 01352 344101. Please note there are some themes in the show that audience may find triggering. Please check the website or speak to the Box Office team for more information.