This one woman play at Surgeon’s Hall emphatically does not do what it says on the tin.
David, the father figure at the centre of the show, is, despite protestations from most of his family, very much not ‘good’. He is, in fact, a monster. A detail which is exceptionally clear from the reason the show’s subtitle is also meant ironically. As the script itself states pretty early on, this is not about ‘love’. It’s about abuse.
Donna and Carol are twins… and their father David could, theoretically, have picked either as the subject of his depraved incestuous actions. But it’s Donna he drags into his world, and as a result breaks all three women involved in his life. Both his two daughters and his wife.
The depths to which this pater over-familias can sink are explored in unflinching detail over a brisk fifty minutes running time. But it isn’t really his story at all. It’s the women who he’s destroyed and, in particular, the strange warped feelings they have towards each other as a result that the story is interested in. And that’s all to its benefit, its sympathies towards the victims giving the play its heart where a character study of an abuser would be merely grim.
All three women are played by Sarah Lawrie, deftly switching between roles with the tiniest costume change and gentle change of performance. It’s a surprisingly difficult trick to pull off, representing three close family members. They have to be recognisably of a kind and yet distinct so it’s a credit to Lawrie that she makes it look easy.
Donna’s sister Carol, the family member with the clearest view of the horror, nonetheless trapped in the world her family has created, is the most relatable of the characters. But the other two, Donna and her mother, are probably more interesting. There’s a visible sadness in Donna’s eyes as she tries to believe her own protestations, Stockholm syndrome writ large. And the mother is the most complex character – bitterly jealous and resentful of her daughter’s hold over David, viewing her as the ‘bitch’, the other woman who stole him away, rather than blaming her own partner for his monstrous actions, or her own culpability in failing to protect her child. The fallibility inherent in her character is all too believable.
The play could, perhaps, spend a little more time investigating the recovery of the central trio and the fact that it doesn’t really go there means that the ending does feel a little abrupt. But that isn’t really it’s purpose. It’s about raising awareness of horrible crimes that occur across the country. This does make for a pretty bleak time at the theatre – and leads to at least one walk-out at the performance I attended. But sometimes it’s important to bear witness. We have to listen to the stories that are difficult to hear otherwise what is the point of telling stories at all? We have to confront these things because if we don’t we’re just Donna’s mum ourselves. To accept is the first step in allowing something to happen.
Our father figure doesn’t get away with his crimes, you’ll be pleased to learn – this isn’t a spoiler as the story is open about this from the outset too – though the manner in which this comes about is definitely surprising and suggests that the subtitle, ‘a love story’, might actually be true after all. In a strange way it restores your faith in humanity, a faith sorely tested during the previous hour.
Writer: Gail Louw
Performer: Sarah Lawrie
Producer: And Tomorrow Theatre