Powerful, moving and gritty, Damsel Productions are pulling no punches with Fabric, the story of Leah (Nancy Sullivan) and the events surrounding her life with boyfriend/husband Ben.
This one-woman performance takes you on the roller-coaster ride from the joy of initially meeting the tall blonde man of her dreams (Ben), through their first dates and the feeling of their first kiss, to meeting her future mother-in-law (with the usual enmities of a protective parent), into their wedding and wedding night where things don’t quite go to plan and then finally into her encounter with one of Ben’s friends in a club one night where he forces himself on her with a nod to the aftermath of. It’s a rollercoaster of a ride and with the lead character using ‘direct address’, we as the audience are right at the coalface every step of the way.
The staging is sparse, a few small props – a bench, a shawl – but everything there has a purpose and is used well with the otherwise open space giving Sullivan space to move and engage each section of the audience through the production.
Sullivan’s character Leah is the only on-stage presence. There are a few off-stage voice sections that add to the dynamic of the piece, but Sullivan as Leah is by far the focus and dominant role. In some ways, the character of Leah is a little over the top in her cliched femininity and the accentuation of her weaknesses is a little noticeable, but I recognise some of my friends and co-workers in her mannerisms and desires making the whole thing work and, for me, work well.
The slow descent from paradise is an emotive one and Sullivan’s authentic feeling mannerisms and passionate performance make it all the more so. When she meets Ben and falls in love, her happiness feels real. Meaning that when things turn bad, it hits hard.
Along the journey, we are treated to some segments of Leah’s life, such as the first meeting with Ben’s mother, that can be hard to work out exactly why they are included and, for me, the initial sequence did seem a little stop-start jumping from event to event slightly haphazardly but it’s all key in creating the emotional connection between Leah and the audience so while the execution (writing-wise) could perhaps have been smoother, overall the intention is achieved and it does work.
The key section of the performance is the run-up to the end. A single setting extended description, the events in the nightclub are a raw, unflinching portrayal of rape and not for the faint-hearted. Sullivan performs the sequence marvellously and, while we are happily right along for the ride while things are good, we’re very much invested in Leah and her wellbeing when things go bad.
There is an important message to the piece as, with alcohol involved, Leah gets no justice and ends up being largely blamed for the whole event and divorced by Ben (no great loss).
Bob Dylan put it best when he said the times they are a-changin’ and while it’s a slow change, there’s momentum there. Hopefully long gone are the days where sufferers of domestic abuse and rape are stigmatised or victim-blamed and productions like this are an invaluable part of the fight against this abhorrent behaviour.
With a top-quality performance, well-crafted design and direction and a carefully thought out topical script, Fabric is a must-see. Highly recommended.
Review by Damien Russell
Leah is smart, kind, recently promoted, and finally seems to ‘have it all’ when she gets to be the Mrs to Mr Ben Cavendish. But she finds herself revolting; revolting against a society and a judicial system that just won’t listen. Fabric gives voice to one woman’s experience of sexual violence and trauma. Through Leah we bear witness to how grey areas seep into everyday life, and how a million small things – some seemingly harmless – can result in one terrible act.
Damsel Productions presents
By Abi Zakarian
Director: Hannah Hauer-King; Designer: Anna Reid; Lighting Designer: Jess Bernberg
Sound Designer: Anna Clock
21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE