Pros: The universality of the scenario portrayed.
Cons: The lack of insight and character development.
Sexism is ingrained in the very fabric of society and I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t experienced it throughout life. In the case of Leah (played by the mesmerising Nancy Sullivan) this disparity is taken to the extreme, with life-changing events in which men always have the upper hand.
Working in a bespoke tailoring boutique in Savile Row, thirty-year old Leah is swept off her feet by an attractive customer, who promptly invites her out and takes her to posh bars and fancy restaurants. He’s intelligent, well-mannered and the references to Fifty Shades of Grey don’t go unnoticed.
Eight months down the line, they’re married, looking for a bigger house, and he’s pressuring her to start a family. That’s when her fairy-tale life begins to tarnish, revealing a sense of oppression and inadequacy that explodes on a night out with the girls. What happens that night brings irreversible consequences and is painfully churned on stage with the help of dramatic lighting.
If Fabric was intended to highlight gender disparity and manipulation, this would have made a lot of sense, but Damsel Productions are working in partnership with the charity Solace Women’s Aid to address domestic and sexual abuse, taking the piece to community locations. In these respects, some of the subplots detract from the play’s main social intent and a lack of nuancing verges towards stereotyping, rather than reflecting real-life scenarios.
The character’s striving for a perfect life and her swift fall in the arms of a “charming prince” without questioning his morals, bring up issues about self-esteem. Leah’s low confidence makes her put up with a patronising mother-in-law, to the point that she’d rather let her food go cold than start eating first and will never dare to ask for a second helping, despite still being hungry. During the same meal, she’s desperate for a drink, but having already spilled a drop of red wine on her immaculate designer dress, she refrains from touching the glass again, to avoid further damage.
There’s also a nod to the gap between social classes, with her subservient attitude towards a wealthy man and his family that openly looks down on her. She repeatedly makes remarks about his wealth and his glamorous lifestyle, seeing them as an attractive feature rather than an alarm bell for his putting a price on everything.
Leah comes across as a vulnerable woman who is naïve, reliant on shallow values, and an easy target for a selfish and predatory man seeking out a trophy wife. Her Cinderella story gone wrong is one we’ve seen many times before and, endeavouring to be universal, it barely scratches the surface of the problem.
The stories that ought to be told involve much more self-driven women who, despite their apparent determination and wise choices, find themselves entangled in abusive relationships. Their experiences, better than anything else, show the sly nature of toxic masculinity.
As a result, I didn’t find this piece insightful, nor informative. Then again, I might have failed to feel sympathy for Leah because I recognised in her many traits of my former self, proving that she really is the universal character that playwright Abi Zakarian aimed at. Whether witnessing her rise and fall serves as an empowering tool for women who are victims of abuse, this is open to debate.
Author: Abi Zakarian
Director: Hannah Hauer-King
Producer: Damsel Productions
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: https://sohotheatre.com/shows/fabric/
Booking Until: 22 September 2018