Jo Fisher Inspired by Robin Soans’ A State Affair
13 January 2016 to 14 January 2016
Verbatim theatre uses material drawn from real life to stimulate audience reaction, the intention being to raise awareness of societal or political issues that the producers feel have been overlooked. In the case of And Then You Kissed Me Footlights Theatre use accounts from victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse and the agencies who deal with the fallout. This is an occasionally baffling subject and the play conveys the complexity of the issue – in particular that abuse is surprisingly egalitarian, not being limited to any social class, gender or race.
Director Jo Fisher, who created the play, outlines five stories. Of these the first two are the most dramatically satisfying, as it is possible to determine a common causal factor. Both a woman who is physically abused by her male partner, and a man who tries to convince himself the sexual thrill is compensation for being repeatedly punched by his girlfriend, were victims of parental abuse. As a result, it is implied, they are conditioned to accept abuse as the norm.
The second half of the play is more ambitious, expanding the theme to cover more subtle forms of abuse – intimidation, financial control and emotional manipulation. This is less successful, as it is harder to determine the motivation of those involved. As such it feels like the situations are being described but not analysed – we are told what happened but struggle to understand why. Indeed one of the stories, involving a self-aware abuser, is left so unresolved as to give the impression that it has been forgotten.
Fisher skilfully avoids the potential pitfalls of the verbatim theatre technique. The stories are not delivered as dry speeches but enacted in a provocative manner. This engages the attention, but, as the stories overlap and the five members of the cast play a range of characters, clarity occasionally becomes an issue. Theatrical techniques – images projected on to the white sheets of a bed, and sound effects – are employed, but in such a half-hearted manner that one wonders if the play was originally conceived with more modest resources in mind.
The play is scrupulously even-handed. The authorities are not portrayed as uncaring or ineffectual, and the limitations under which they operate are made clear. However, the detail that has to be communicated to get these points across is so dense that that it becomes hard to absorb.
And Then You Kissed Me rises admirably to the challenge of communicating the scale and complexity of domestic abuse. The limitations of the play arise not from the Footlights Theatre Company but rather the basis of verbatim theatre, which promotes audience understanding but denies them the cathartic release allowed by fiction.
Reviewer: David Cunningham