Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Powerful Theme, Distinctive Treatment

35 Times

Mercury Theatre Wales & RCT Theatres , St Dogmaels Memorial Hall , July 5, 2017
35 Times by Mercury Theatre Wales & RCT Theatres Just when the touring season for the first half of the year is supposed to be over Mercury Theatre arrives at the estuary of the Teifi. The Memorial Hall at St Dogmaels is not an obvious venue but as with all things there is a reason behind it. The company's production of late 2015 was performed across the river at Cardigan's Small World. That production necessitated a choir from the vicinity. A relationship was established and persisted. Its warmth can be seen in the pre-show ambience in the Hall. “Community” is an abused word in a PR-heavy theatre scene; this really does feel like a genuine fusion of Cardiff-meets-Cardigan.

Public events matter but their effects can be slowly or obliquely experienced. “35 Times” is a potent reminder that home is a more likely source of hell. The title is explained by writer-creator Bethan Morgan “Statistically, a woman will experience domestic abuse on average 35 times before reporting it.” The numbers are stark and arresting. “Police receive one domestic violence call every thirty seconds and two women are killed every week by a current or former partner.” The cast comprises six women spanning four or five decades in age. They all have stories to tell. Llinos Daniel's Jules ends with a short statement of shocking explanation.

By chance of timing a path-breaking book on the subject by Sandra Horley “the Charm Syndrome” from 1991 has been reissued under a new title “Power and Control.” Like “35 Times” it has six women for its attention and the content has its points of match. The men started with charm. “I heard that word almost every time,” says Horley... “Then slowly – still mixed in with the charm, flitting between the two – the same patterns would creep in. Put-downs. Possessiveness. Isolation.” The goal is domination, total and simple. In one of Bethan Morgan's chronicles the grip of alcohol gouges out a marriage. Eventually it is concern for the physical safety of a child that prompts departure. From a distance the man wheedles and implores by phone. It is not said in the script but the digital world has been of no advantage to the victims of violence and abuse.

Catrin-Mai Huw's Gemma is the extrovert with the tale from beyond the social pale, serial pregnancies from serial men who follow the same pattern. At the other end of talkativeness Rasheeda Ali's Tara has had an experience of such extremity as to pitch her into silence. She writes short single-sentence notes that are handed to the audience. The revelations of Natalie Paisey as Claire, Olwen Rees as Glenys and Clêr Stephens as Val are all different and all build to a composite picture.

The subject is sombre but the effect is not. As in “Anamnesis 25.12” from 2015 the treatment is imaginative not documentary. The space of the hall is decorated with bunting and fairy lights. Lighting is by Katy Morrison, set and costume by Cerys Lewis. Music is used, familiar tunes given new acidic lyrics. It has sequences of physical theatre that include a damaged soul and body being laid in peace amidst candles. Jason Marc-Williams is assistant director and choreographer. The audience sits at tables around the action. It comes to a close in a way that is unique and rather magical, a rebuttal to all that has gone before.

“35 Times” continues to Volcano Theatre, Swansea and Chapter 11th-15th July. On July 14th the cast will be joined by members of Welsh Women’s Aid survivors’ group SEEDS, Survivors Empowering and Educating Services, for a post-show discussion.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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