Tuesday, July 23

Bindweed – Arcola Theatre

What can you do about domestic abuse? Martha Loader’s whopper of a one act, Bindweed, begs the question. Directed by Jennifer Tang, the play follows Jen (Laura Hanna), a group counsellor for men who have committed acts of domestic abuse. Although the bulk of the play’s plot comes apart in these facilitated sessions with the men she is attempting to rehabilitate, Loader does not confine her heroine exclusively to the therapeutic setting.

We see her on a date with disappointing romantic prospect, Peter (Shailan Gohil), having drinks with married friends Nina (Josie Brightwell) and Ed (Simon Darwen) and in check-ins with her supervisor Alistair (Sean Kingsley) each played by an actor who also takes on a role in the world of the sessions themselves. This double casting and its both troubling and reassuring implications about the mutability of those people in our lives we consider our friends and our enemies is compelling but is not matched in its ambitiousness by the staging itself or any vigorousness of performance from the cast.

Lulu Tam’s fanciful scenic design is visually interesting but does little to actually support the unfolding action and transitions between Jen’s clinical and social worlds are murky at best. Ric Mountjoy’s lighting design for the play goes pretty far but has a lot of other visual clutter to contend with that seems better suited to film than this live staging. The self-consciousness of the play’s actors too perhaps derives from the discomfort of presenting these themes to an immediately present audience in a way that feels both safe and responsible.

Programs assure attendees that they are welcome to leave and re-enter the auditorium at any time they wish but the actual practicality of this offer is unclear as the theatre’s doors shut and lights dim.

The sound design by Jasmin Kent Rodgman prominently features a clock ticking sound which fails to keep the pace of play consistent or achieve any kind of crocodilian ratcheting of dramatic tension as it trundles on. The characters and situations are well researched but the balance between what people think they might say and do in certain situations and what they actually end up saying and doing feels a little off. This is no revenge fantasy or feminist utopic take on interventions in domestic abuse cases but its most sympathetic characters sometimes act as if it is. Although it is refreshing to see a woman unflinchingly stand up for herself on stage in every experienced instance of unwarranted aggression certain dramaturgical decisions here result in the play’s female characters being divided a little too cleanly into victim and hero camps.

This is not a play to win hearts and change minds. Women in the audience already know these stories and renavigating them in this way is more exhausting than empowering.

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 9th July 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.