A Pretty Sh*tty Love review – powerful exploration of domestic abuse

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The Guardian

Theatr Clwyd
Both actors excel in Katherine Chandler’s fictionalised account of the attempted murder of a Swansea woman in 2015

Carl walks into a cafe in Swansea where Hayley works as a waitress. She used to know his brother and fancied Carl, 20 years ago. Hayley suggests a date; numbers, messages and kisses are exchanged, then Hayley becomes Carl’s girlfriend.

Katherine Chandler’s play is a fictionalised account of the real-life story of Stacey Gwilliam who in 2015, after being violently attacked by her partner on the Swansea Bay coastal path, managed to crawl out of the shallow grave in which she had been left for dead. It is not an easy watch.

From the outset, on Lulu Tam’s stage, gritted with sand and filled with jagged Perspex edges, Chandler’s script possesses a dangerous volatility: men are not who they appear to be, the faith of children in responsible adults is misplaced, and violence flares up with terrifying regularity. It is a complex, challenging exploration of domestic abuse and particularly of its insidious, coercive oppressiveness (emphasised by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s soundscape), where a glance can have unimaginably distressing consequences.

The subjugation of women is a recurring focus of Chandler’s work, and this is perhaps her most powerful play yet. Eschewing easy cliches, Hayley and Carl’s words have a sparkling lyricism and lucidity. And within the horrors of its subject matter, it is also a sophisticated exploration of desire, where glistening muscular bodies can be objects of lust as well as tools of violence.
Under Francesca Goodridge’s precise direction, this violence is never actualised, only – brutally and devastatingly – inferred. With the aid of Yandass Ndlovu’s choreography, the production conveys an evocative and powerful theatricality that adroitly abstracts its most dramatic moments without ever diminishing their impact. Such nuanced complexity is also to be found in the performances: Danielle Bird as Hayley and Daniel Hawksford as Carl are excellent, humane and sad, individually and as a pair.

Despite its violence and the urge to look away it prompts, this is a production imbued with delicacy and compassion. It offers no easy answers or comforting resolutions, and is all the more impactful for it.

At Theatr Clwyd until 23 July, then at Chapter, Cardiff, 27-29 July.

Continue reading… July 14, 2022 at 04:49PM Gareth Llŷr Evans

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