Pros: The play is very clearly based on real accounts of domestic abuse victims. It reveals in a very aesthetically shocking way experiences which are frighteningly common around the UK
Cons: The immersive, promenade environment is sensually stunning, but the freedom for the audience can lead to a stifling of subtlety.
I challenge you to leave this performance without feeling changed. Common Wealth Theatre have penetrated real life experiences of domestic violence. They presented five narratives which were woven together in an immersive storytelling enveloping an entire Camden town house.
Meeting at a phone booth in Camden, you instantly feel wrong-footed for attending a theatre show. This feeling of being off-balance remains as you are led to enter the house in twos to find an entire place decorated. Each room is the home of a different abuse survivor. Five different characters ignore you as you explore the rooms, which look naturalistic yet are highly symbolic.
The performance doesn’t lay out a set of interconnected characters enacting one plot. The narrative is based around the progression of very different relationships through cycles of domestic abuse, emotional and physical. You are totally free to explore and follow the characters you are interested in as they clamour through the house presenting snapshots of their lives.
You’re likely to find a story which resonates with you, whether it’s the Punjabi lady isolated from you by language, the child in his fantasy cave, the aging mother stuck in old habits, the pregnant woman trying to make everything perfect, the young lady trying to assuage the man who loves her too much. Or the man who is manipulated and set up by his partner as a perpetrator.
It’s chilling. It’s intense. It’s also very aesthetically marvellous, with smashed lamps suspended in the air, a piano on the ceiling and a black shadow of a person transforming in to a fox up the stairs. It can however lack subtlety. If it plucks your heartstrings, it does so out of its raw nature rather than compounded empathy to the characters. I personally felt quite detached as very little of the subject matter was new that I didn’t find it shocking in quite the same way many of the other audience members clearly felt. There was a beautiful moment when a few of us were barricaded in to a room by one of the characters. Having been slipping effortlessly around the house this viscerally brought home the feeling of being trapped through preventing from making my own choices.
The acting quality was high, especially when you consider the performers had to totally ignore the audience who were invading their stage. Harrowing, isolated and helpless, these are not easy characters to portray, yet in each one strength and vibrant personality shone through which surmounted their vulnerability. The lady who only spoke Punjabi I found especially elegant in her stoicism.
Many plays need to be taken with a pinch of salt. What you are seeing is culmination of the actor, director and author’s viewpoints which can be highly subjective but portrayed as reality. This was never the case for Our Glass House. Based on real narratives, with statistics incorporated in to the set along with resources such as Escape Plans there is the knowledge that even though it can seem outlandish, these are genuine human experiences. That could be happening next door to you.
Presented by: Common Wealth Theatre
More Information: www.commonwealththeatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 28th November 2013