“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude” – Kate Chopin.
Inspired by interviews conducted with women in Wales as part of Survivors, an outreach project, The Absence of Silence is a frank examination of the impact of long-term physical and emotional abuse on women in relationships. In terms of its tone and content, the show reminded me of a modern version of Euripides’ The Trojan Woman, plus Nell Dunn’s Steaming, which focuses on a disparate group of women in their collective ‘safe space’, discussing their respective circumstances of adversity.
The play begins with five women arriving at a beach together, preparing to spend the rest of the day there. While the sea and the change of environment is soothing, it soon becomes apparent that the women are unable to ‘switch off’ and have brought their ’emotional baggage’ with them.
As we get to know the women, we see that beyond their common experiences, they each have a ‘problem’ that is ‘peculiar’ to them. Being the most senior in age of the group, Shirley (Elsie Lyons) has an air of being calm, wise and unruffled. However, beneath her serene surface lies years of psychological duress, borne out of her husband’s chauvinist behaviour and irrational resentment of her.
In the case of Lizzie (Louise Perry), her partner routinely sends her abusive text messages and expects her to reply straightaway. While she finds herself publicly touting his good qualities, she knows all too well how he behaves the majority of the time.
For Lauren (Jojo Morrall), she’s not only had to put up with her partner’s petty, controlling behaviour, when she’s able to find the strangeth to leave and move, she realises that her children have ‘assimilated’ their father’s attitude and vocabulary – seeing her as a negative influence, rather than the person who has their best interests at heart. As for Sandra (Charlotte Bull), she realised that her husband was having an affair, but ‘refused’ to say anything at the time. Now that he’s remarried, he still spies on her everyday as he lives just around the corner…
Hailing initially from a village and been with her partner since the age of 15, a lack of exposure to ‘normal’ relationships may be have played a part in the initial rose-tinted perspective of Kelly (Holly Skinner). Even so, the abuse she receives now takes on the form of belligerent outbursts over trivial matters. Just like the other partners of these women, it’s apparent that Kelly’s other half ‘gets off’ on the control he has over her and engendering a permanent state of unease…
We hear throughout that how the women feel in any given moment is governed by how ‘their men’ are feeling. If the men are in a good mood, the women will be as well. But if for whatever reason the men turn nasty. the women know there will be hell to pay.
Knowing all of this, why do these women stay? For many of these women, it is the children that they stay for, rather than abandon them or leave them without a father figure. There is also another factor – the ‘irrational’ but deeply felt conviction by the abused that through patience and acquiescing to their partner’s wishes, their love will change them for the better in the long run. Time and time again in the play, we also see how ‘gaslighting’ by the abusive partner has a long-term effect on the women’s confidence and ability to think objectively about their situation.
Lizzie is arguably the most ‘complex’ of the women. Asides from an awareness of the dichotomy between her fear and unconditional love for her husband, she also has an appreciation of literature and feminist history. Yet, even with these cerebral ‘tools’ at her disposal, they don’t grant immunity from despair and her ‘primal scream’ moment is more powerful than a dozen intellectual arguments about domestic relationships.
So what else can be said about the subject of abuse? Shirley tells a story about the owners of a rottweiler and some lambs – a tale that portends to the inevitable conclusion of the aggressor and the persued. For the vigilant and the seasoned in relationships, the signs are always there. It’s never too late to change one’s situation…
© Michael Davis 2020
Creator / Writer … Dave Carey
Creator / Co-Director … Christine Niering
Director … Joseph Morton
In The Absence of Silence can be viewed online on YouTube and is recommended for ages 15 years and over. It contains very strong language (spoken and projected) with content and themes which some audiences may find upsetting.