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The Soft of Her Palm, Finborough Theatre

Chris Dunkley
Directed by Ola Ince

Pros: The cast give a very strong performance of gritty subject matter and complex characters. The story is told in reverse which is a fantastic way to challenge the audience’s perception of the circumstances. It is particularly refreshing to be presented with an unconventional female lead.

Cons: Domestic violence and abuse is confronted head on which some audiences may find unpalatable.

Our Verdict: This is a powerful piece of drama, which resonates long after you leave the theatre.

Courtesy of the Finborough Theatre

“Whatever we do… whatever happens… from this point on… we’re both to blame”

These are the words that stayed with me as I left the Finborough after seeing this production. Chris Dunkley has certainly captured something tangibly believable in this script that tells the tale of a couple’s fast paced and volatile relationship. The story begins in the Autumn of 2012, after the relationship has ended, when Sarah has just crashed her car outside Phil’s house. We are unsure whether the accident incurs a fatality, and there is something unnerving and inexplicable about the way the two characters are relating to each other. Phil wants Sarah to leave. Sarah has called the police. This sets the scene perfectly for the revelation of the circumstances that transpired to lead the protagonists to this point.

The story moves chronologically in reverse, unravelling their lives right back to their first date a year or so earlier. In doing so, it challenges and scrutinises preconceptions and stereotypes of incidences of domestic violence. It is confrontational, deliberately so, and it is impossible not be gripped by the drama unfolding before you. It is particularly exciting to find a script in which the female lead is not predictable. Sarah’s character is daring and provocative whilst remaining credible and believable.

The subject of abuse is not skirted around and as a result the play includes scenes of violence. The stage direction was impeccable in delivering these scenes with disturbing conviction – I was genuinely shocked and jolted by the actions which can only mean that they are directed and rehearsed to a tee. I was surprised to read that it is in repertoire and the set is borrowed from another production running at the Finborough. I think the set lends itself perfectly to the script, the colour scheme and simplicity of the boxes adding to, but not complicating the unstable environment.

This play is centred around a really dynamic set of characters. The two leads Simon Bubb (Phil) and Tilly Gaunt (Sarah) present their multi-faceted and complex characters with avidity and sincerity. They are really convincing, from the tone of their voices to their body language. They formulate volatility and neurosis, and then starkly contrast it with seemingly relaxed and happy demeanour. The support cast are also commendable and add to the complexity of the themes. Sean Murray as Sarah’s father Mick adds another level of agitation to the relationship and Siubhan Harrison, as Phil’s female friend Lucy, provides the grounding benchmark of sanity and normality that punctuates the play. This character did come across a little one dimensional and predictable however, in contrast to the other roles. And then there is seven year old Poppy, played beautifully on the night I went by Carmelina Meoli. The serene innocence and simple humour of the child on the stage, being pawned by the couple in question is so disquieting and such a stark contrast to the psychological and physical violence that is going on around her. I only hope she has her favourite music playing through headphones whilst offstage so she can’t hear the rest of the scenes!

This is not necessarily a pleasant play to watch, but it is enjoyable for many reasons: its high quality delivery, its confrontational themes, and its unexpected twists and turns leave the audience with lots to digest. This is really worth seeing.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Soft of Her Palm runs at the Finborough Theatre until 23rd October 2012.
Box Office: 0844 847 1652 or book online at http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2012/the-soft-of-her-palm.php

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