“There are no children from this marriage,” the programme for Safeword Theatre UK’s Waking Up Dead! almost tersely states. Not that this was a show with one of those struggles to conceive, with exorbitant amounts of money spent on IVF treatment and other ‘possibly maybe’ solutions. How Sandra (Eleanor Victoria Hill) and husband Paul, an off-stage character, end up with no children is harrowing and hard-hitting, as is much of this production.
At the centre of this hour long show (just the right length for an Edinburgh Festival Fringe production, in case the producers were looking for any future ideas further to the ones already in motion) is a long monologue from Sandra, occasionally a little too measured for the story she is telling. I assume this is deliberate, not so much from a position of not wanting to reveal her true emotions, but rather from a position of denial that things are as bad as they are.
Male victims of domestic violence are often said to be reticent to discuss, confidentially let alone openly, the problems they are facing, perhaps because there’s still a stigma of sorts attached to men letting it be known that they are being abused by what the King James Bible – and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – refer to as ‘weaker vessels’. But there are women who suffer in silence too, and for various reasons refuse offers of assistance, whether from family, friends, authorities or registered charities.
Sandra’s story is broadly similar to that old ‘frog in a pan’ analogy, where it is asserted that a frog that is suddenly placed into a pan with boiling water jumps out of it immediately, but a frog placed into a pan with cold water that is slowly heated to boiling point will meet its end in the gradual process of not being able to perceive the danger properly (or at all) and will be cooked to death. The audience sits in disbelief as this young lady remains blind to her treatment by Paul. I would have liked to have heard his perspective on events, and more about his line of thinking and why he feels justified in behaving so uncivilly towards the person he claims to love.
That is not to say that the audience is exposed to a single perspective. Linda (Julia Lynch) repeatedly reaches out to Sandra, but to no avail: her frustration with ‘Sandy’, as she calls her, becomes increasingly palpable. As the old adage would have it, one can lead a horse to water, but one cannot force it to drink. There’s some considerable details in Sandra’s monologue, steadily delivered in a style that captured both her vulnerability and lack of self-awareness. Of course, while there are characteristics in the personalities of many couples that are tolerated in the name of love, the multiple layers in Sandra’s account make the plot far from straightforward in this thoroughly engaging narrative.
The very final scene bamboozled me slightly with the various devices at the disposal of police services to combat domestic violence and abuse. All the same, an overall strong script from Wendy Walker is vividly brought to life by an even stronger cast. Did I enjoy this production? Certainly not. But with such a heart-rending and haunting storyline (never melodramatic, mind you), I very much doubt I was meant to.
Waking Up Dead! A Safeword Theatre UK production
29 November and 6 December 2016, Merton Civic Centre Council Chamber
Cast: Eleanor Victoria Hill as Sandra, Julia Lynch as Linda, Melody Schroeder as Police Officer
Written and directed by Wendy Walker
Production Co-ordinator: Jane Upson
Artistic Director: Vincent Murray
Production Liaison: Kim Pike
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.