Writing ‘seriously’ about domestic abuse can be a daunting task. One runs the danger of it not being sensitive enough or not ‘ringing true’. There are notable successes, however, such as debbie tucker green’s dirty butterfly, which focuses as much – if not more so – on the neighbours’ reactions to the audible abuse, as anything else… Written and directed by Michael Honnah and purportedly based on on a true account, 102 is unlike anything you’ll ever see at a theatre. Before the audience has even taken to its seats, the unmistakable sound of ‘a domestic incident’ can be heard – screaming, thudding, the breaking of objects… It’s only once we’re inside the ‘theatre proper’ that see that the primary aggressor is actually April (Lucy Oglesby) while her husband Joe (Ugo Onwughalu) is doing his level best to calm her down. The arrival of mutual friends temporaily abates the tension, but once the fighting kicks off again, the truth – the whole truth comes out – reshaping the audience’s perception of things.
Told in ‘real time’, the action takes place over one evening. Sometimes showing minutae can be richly rewarding, showing nuances that would otherwise be overlooked. In this case, however, a lot of time in the first half is spent on repetition – which asides from needlessly slowing down the narrative, accompanied by swathes of loud music – has the adverse affect of making Oglesby’s April initially appear a harridan, rather than someone who may have a genuine reason to feel aggrieved. The couple’s friends Callie and Nathan (played by Sulin Hasso, Rishi Pelham) have a similar function to Nick and Honey, the young couple who bear witness to Martha and George’s arguments in Who’s Afraid Of Virgina Woolf? The friends’ presence in the play is all too brief and adds little to the latter half of 102. However, their juvenile behaviour does serve as a reminder of how young Joe and April were when they married (19) and had a young daughter. For all their fighting and faults, April and Joe have more responsibilities and more ‘grown up’ than their peers.
The play in the second half shows a more balanced persepective, which puts a completely different complexion on events. Anyone who has seen how The Curse Of The Yellow Flower or Teaching A Dillo To Cross The Road knows how a few vital pieces of information can not only transform a perspective in what’s going on, the characters previously acting in an ‘insufferable’ manner become all too relatable.
The play’s denouement and depiction of the extremeties of the violence makes for grim viewing, but there’s no getting away from fact that it is powerful and that the actors give 110% to conveying the the physical and emotional ramifications of this behaviour.
I have no doubts that Honnah has the best of intentions in bringing this tale to the stage. With a bit of judicious editng and a sense of knowing when ‘less is more’, 102 could be a more well-rounded play.
So what does 102 have to say on domestic abuse? Certainly, that the usual labels and criteria aren’t always applicable in these cases. Socio-economics doesn’t come into it, or drugs and alcohol for that matter. What 102 successfully highlights is abuse isn’t always seen, especially the emotional kind. This perpetuates the anger, but entwined with physical abuse, simultaneously hinders the means and wherewithal to leave.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, 102 pertains to the number of the house where the action takes place…
© Michael Davis 2017.
102 runs at the Space Arts Centre until 3rd June 2017.