Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A depiction of the devastating effects of domestic violence from the point of view of a young woman attempting to leave her partner. The audience are intimate observers as she gathers herself and her belongings together in real time in a real bedroom.
A woman cowering behind a bed, eyes transfixed on the door you have just walked through, an ironing board tipped over on the floor next to a basket of spilled clothes. Lighting is just from two bedside lamps and the effect is of a domestic still life but with the usual bowl of fruit or cosy cooking ingredients replaced with these telling signs of a very recent violent physical event.
This is an intimate experience for the audience and the proximity to the performer – we are feet from the end of her bed – compels us to be more than observers. Like the woman we hold our breath when the phone rings insistently or keep very still so as not to disturb the tiny and precious peace she has carved out for herself after the violent physical attack.
Next Time comes highly recommended – for the quality of the text (playwright Jess Moore), the direction (Polly Creed) and most of all the performance of Francesca Isherwood. This is both an emotional and technically demanding role – there is little dialogue per se but a lot of non-verbal responses to a persistently ringing mobile and voicemail messages. The upbeat pop number which heralds each call from the husband is foot tappingly cheerful to begin with; after the twentieth controlling call it is nauseating. There is respite from the outside world as support agencies get in touch to offer what limited support they can and this is clever writing from Moore as these moments of relief are needed both to underline how grim the situation is but also to provide breathing space for the audience.
The text is painstakingly constructed to carefully plot out the hour, maximising the tension for the audience so that we are fully invested in the desire to flee. A delicate balance is required here so that the play does not tip over into the territory of a horror porn movie. A Hollywood treatment would victimise the woman and remove her independent agency; under Moore’s pen the character and the situation are realistic (she has very limited options and psychologically she has few reserves) but she is not victimised.
The performance takes place in a real bedroom in city centre flat. It would work in a small studio theatre but the location adds an emotional layer. The found soundscape of the street outside also deepens the experience and if possible Isherwood could react to some of them be it bottles crashing into a recycling bin or a police siren. With a larger budget it might be possible to have the technician outside the bedroom as the sound plot is so integral to the performance becoming aware that is not real too is slightly distracting. Thought perhaps to how to share the sad and damming statistics about domestic violence to create space between them and the performance.
Next Time is compelling and serious drama. It is also a tough hour to sit through but if either the issue of domestic violence or potential miscarriage could overwhelm you the front of house team make it easy to leave the performance space.
Next Time is one of four plays by women, about women performed by women which form the Power Play showcase as part of the Pleasance programme. All four take place in the same Edinburgh flat on Broughton Street. All four explore current and urgent concerns of women living in the UK today. The are all reviwed by Fringe Review on this site.
The full Power Play programme is: