Marking their third year anniversary, the Bread & Roses Theatre in Clapham is currently running a poignant play that takes a familiar issue and turns it on its head. Written by Phil Charles and directed Tessa Hart, The Black Eye Club focuses on a women’s refuge and the course of events over one night. After a night out at karaoke, Zoe (Rebecca Pryle) returns to the refuge to find Dave (Christopher Sherwood) knocking on the door. She makes the same assumption as Sharon (Cathryn Sherman) the night manager, that this is an abusive husband or boyfriend looking for his partner here. However, Dave reveals he is a victim of domestic abuse too – from his boyfriend. Sneaking him onto the premises, Zoe gets to know Dave and finds that in some matters, they aren’t so very different…
While the play deals with a serious subject matter, it takes a different tact from say debbie tucker green’s dirty butterfly or Scott James’ Between A Man And A Woman. The play has a lot of heart and the chemistry between Prye and Sherwood is key to this. In their own way they are ‘the odd couple’ with Dave being the ‘straight’ man to Zoe’s ‘unintentionally’ funny ‘klepto’. Each of them has a way of perceiving aspects of the other’s situation with clarity, though both also have some ‘learning’ to do too.
Economic dependence is seldom talked about in the debate about domestic abuse, but as the play highlights, for those women who have very little to live on, affording a place of their own is unthinkable. Breaking ties from abusive partners is also made extremely difficult because they ‘hold the purse strings’, while changes in the housing benefits sysyem make it near-impossible to be rehoused independently.
The importance of recognising ‘whose fault it is’ for the beatings in all relationships is also addressed. No matter what has done or said, one’s partner is never justified in escalating disagreements to physical blows. For those inclined to such actions, they will always find a reason to justify them. That said, often the ‘damage’ is already done, with those ‘under the fist’ forever living in fear and have internalised the disparaging comments one’s partner repeats.
While many pertinent points are raised in the play, they are all made deftly and organically within the conversations. The humour that Pryle as Zoe exudes throughout The Black Eye Club regarding herself, Dave and life in general really makes the play, contributing much to its heart. For a play about the most soul-destroying of situations, it offers a lot of hope and its audience with a renewed sense of wonder at the human spirit.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Black Eye Club runs at the Bread & Roses Theatre until 18th November.