Review: in the absence of silence
Sandra - Charlotte Bull
Shirley - Elsie Lyons
Lauren - Jojo Morrall
Lizzie - Louise Perry
Kelly - Holly Skinner
Five women meet on the beach in a bleak seaside town for an impromptu picnic lunch, seeking some laughs and gossip washed down with a glass or two.
As the day progresses, their friendship and shared experiences reveal devastating truths from the hidden corners of their lives.
We realise that through their heartache and pain has come an unbreakable bond of strength, love and hope.
This moving and dramatic piece (co-produced with Creu Cymru and developed with South Gwynedd Domestic Abuse Services) is based on interviews conducted with women as part of our outreach project, Survivors.
In a searingly honest and poignant portrayal of what can all too often be untold stories, Chickenshed presents a powerful representation of the strength and power of survival.
In The Absence of Silence interweaves excerpts of the women's own words with multimedia to create an honest, at times brutal, portrayal of what can take place behind closed doors, and the life-affirming and positive truth of what is possible when the silence is broken.
Contains very strong language (spoken and projected) with content and themes which some audiences may find upsetting.
Playing in Chickenshed's immaculately-appointed studio - which manages to be roomy and cosy at one and the same time - this piece of exemplary verbatim theatre ought to be compulsory viewing for all genders and ages.
For those of you unfamiliar with verbatim theatre, it's a technique used to devise a play based on the real-life experiences of ordinary people, often using their own words.
For this play, Chickenshed have worked with Creu Cymru and South Gwynedd Domestic Abuse Services in Wales, providing workshops for women who have been subjected to the horrors of domestic abuse.
From the material these workshops provided, writer Dave Carey has woven together an intricate and complex, finely-crafted work which manages to cover an enormous amount of territory in a play with a running time of just 70 minutes.
Though the result is not always an easy play to watch, it encapsulates the wide-ranging and hugely damaging impact which domestic abuse dumps on women and their children.
The setting for the play is a simple but effective vehicle through which women's stories can be told.
Five women of varying ages are spending the day on a sunlit beach, sipping a few glasses of wine and gossiping.
While they ought to be relaxing, they are haunted by their past or ongoing daily experiences of domestic abuse at the hands of their husbands or partners.
And as the play unfolds, their stories are interspersed with the narrative, and they cover abuse ranging from the extreme of brutal, life-threatening physical harm, through to petty 'rules' about how potatoes should be peeled, how collars should be starched or ironed, or which teaspoon should be used to stir a cup of tea.
The descriptions are often harrowing.
What is particularly striking is the similarity of the women's experiences and the incessant, repetitive fear they face.
For example, at home they all keep looking over their shoulders in case 'he is sneaking-up behind' them.
More shocking and tragic, for some of them, their own death would be a welcome release.
Joseph Morton's well-paced, compelling and seamless direction weaves together all of these stories and issues with immense sensitivity, without pulling any punches or being in any way maudlin.
There's a strong docudrama feel to the production with the excellent cast convincingly portraying ordinary women who could be our next-door neighbour, the check-out operator in Tescos, a nurse in one of our hospitals.
The production values are of the highest quality with powerfully atmospheric use of music, and designer Angela Simpson provides a subtle but perfectly sufficient set design with a clever landscape background made of pieces of folded material which has the endless ripple of a tide flowing in and out over the top of it.
In the programme for the show, there's a vitally significant statement: "Home should be the safest place".
For many women (and their children) it certainly isn't, and leaving the theatre it's hard not to feel a deep sense of shame and remorse about that fact.
That said, this play is not without hope.
The characters the drama depicts are not shown merely as victims, they are 'surviviors' who, with unimagineable courage and support, can escape the horrendous situations they find themselves in.
I doubt you'll find a more poignant or worthy example of this particular dramatic genre - it's a fine and important piece of unquestionably relevant theatre that deserves to be given much wider exposure throughout our country and beyond.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Chickenshed Theatre
Our show listing for in the absence of silence
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