Rosalind Blessed has the knack of writing tortured characters, and this time, in the form of problematic couple: James, played by Duncan Wilkins, and Robin, played by the writer herself.
Wilkins begins by addressing the audience with suave elegance, talking eloquently about how to make the perfect hollandaise sauce – boasting the fact that he’s making a meal for his wife of five years for their anniversary. It doesn’t take long, however, for the mask to slip, and the ‘nice guy’ persona reveals a patronising, gas-lighter. From here, it’s quite clear the direction Blessed is taking us on.
Domestic abuse is sneaky; it can manifest in the most unlikely of ways, and Blessed’s narrative achieves this through showing happier times, where the couple enjoy a camping trip away on their ‘smug hill’, looking down on all the miserable couples, never imagining they would become one of them. Blessed’s Robin is engaging, funny, and carries a clear inner strength. Her love for her dogs as life-long companions is relatable and endearing; a constant in her life when her husband is not.
Blessed’s writing is full of strong imagery and poetry, artfully tapping into the raw feelings built up around break-ups and abuse. Wilkins plays an increasingly more erratic James, who evidently suffers from fragile masculinity, but masks it with cheap humour and sarcasm as we watch him drink himself into oblivion on a night out. In this sense, Blessed’s storytelling is well developed, as each part of the narrative is filled in by both characters at various moments throughout, with their different perspectives adding a new light to their relationship story.
Nevertheless, the narrative begins to lose its message with its melodramatic tendencies. Long speeches and tortuous shouting-matches could be cut in order to present a cleaner narrative and to avoid over-labouring the point and becoming a bit of a soap opera.
Blessed’s play effectively captures the vulnerable voices of both the abuser and the abused, but perhaps requires a little more workshopping to streamline the message.