Like the abusive marriage that it describes, Bottled starts off deceptively sweet. It is Katy’s 15th birthday, and she’s celebrating at home with family and her mum’s boyfriend, some shiny balloons and a violently pink cake. As she talks us through the scene, describing the characters and their part in her life, the commentary is wry and perceptive, a healthy mix of childish candour and teenage snark. When, shortly after that birthday party, she hooks up with Bradley, a hot, caring and attentive classmate, life seems to be shaping up pretty well. But then Brian, by now her stepdad, gets his feet under the table and shows his true colours….
Though the first half of Bottled sometimes feels a little quaint and contrived, with a lot of motion for motion’s sake, and cryptic repositioning of balloons, it sets up the very dark second half just perfectly. Suddenly Katy and her mother are falling and falling, robbed of comfort, security and stability. Katy loses her home and all contact with her past, but she also loses the young woman she was just becoming. No longer hanging out at her boyfriend’s house, now she’s sharing a bed with her mum. Her ambitions are curtailed, and the carefree optimism of youth replaced with vigilance and mutual dependency. The contrast is heartbreaking, and the story distressingly believable.
Chris White’s staging of Hayley Wareham’s impressive script is simple but compelling. Three young actresses play Katy, all dressed in tracky bottoms, T-shirt and cosy socks, alternating in and out of the lead role and all other roles. They move around an almost empty stage, using just a few props and some ‘80s pop to powerful effect. A legalistic document setting out the new restrictions on Katy’s behaviour is more soul-crushing for being read out over a microphone. It’s striking that Katy never shows any strong emotion. She is simultaneously in and outside the story, and her tone remains surprisingly calm, almost resigned and ever with a little teenage irreverence. Yet the play builds to breath-holding tension, as Wareham pinpoints all the misery of their situation: doors with no locks; obsessive phone calls; desperate conversations with council workers.
The emotional power of the production is only reinforced by reading the programme, with its dismal statistics about the availability of women’s refuges. Flux Theatre’s run at Vault Festival is being used to raise money for Women’s Aid, but they’re doing an equal or greater service by bringing to life so vividly the frightening and precarious existence of families affected by domestic violence.
Author: Hayley Wareham
Director: Chris White
Booking link: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/bottled/?spektrix_bounce=true
Box office: 0208 050 9241
Booking until: 17 February 2019