Fabric was, in some respects, subtler than I thought it would be. Perhaps it was being informed beforehand that rape would be depicted on stage that made me think this would be an altogether bloody and gruesome affair, possibly even with audience walkouts. I would, with the benefit of hindsight, go so far as to say rape is not actually depicted on stage, but rather described. I am not sure which is more harrowing as neither approach leaves much to the imagination at all. Of interest to me was that the word ‘rape’ is not actually used in the show, at least to the best of my recollection, and I wonder if there is a deliberate unwillingness to use the term for fear of pedantically stating the obvious, as though saying it were a wholly unnecessary piece of commentary.
Leah (Nancy Sullivan) takes the audience on a journey through her life to date, spending a considerable amount of time speaking directly to us, with a warm, friendly and engaging manner, not as though this were a job interview or a sales pitch, but rather as though we were friends for some months now but had never heard the full story of Leah’s life properly before. The narrative never loses its way, and tackles some (more or less) universal themes in modern relationships.
I note that there is no discernible attempt at highlighting that there is help, support and assistance out there for rape victims. Leah, after going through the full gamut of human emotions played out in different scenarios, then simply strikes out on her own. I felt that the backing and encouragement provided to Leah by her lady friends, who ensured she went out every so often and maintained a social life, went unacknowledged. At the same time, there may have been a good reason for this. On one hand, it felt like (metaphorical) slaps in the faces for those who stood by her. On the other, because the criminal offence committed against Leah happened on a night out with the ladies, those friends will forever be associated in Leah’s mind with what happened to her, even though they themselves did nothing wrong. Quite how I even reached such conclusions from a one-act, one-actor, one-character play comes as a result of some creative methods of portraying a number of off-stage characters in this production. What these comprise are secrets best kept between those who have seen the play.
The set is deceptively simple. What starts out as an unmade bed that Tracey Emin would probably approve of goes through several transformations as the narrative progresses. Sullivan’s performance is compulsive viewing from start to finish, and sometimes very physical. Other times it is almost as though Leah is struggling to get the words out. She would speak even faster, it would seem, to tell her story if only she could. It was also pleasing to see that the play is not one where circumstances are blissful and near-perfect, before a critical incident appears out of nowhere and very suddenly changes everything. Here, there’s a sense even from the opening scenes that below the jovial surface level, all is not well. The plot gets darker gradually, as opposed to instantaneously.
This is a raw and honest production, tackling some hard-hitting contemporary issues that still prevail despite decades of equality legislation and the feminist movement. The choice of music to accompany scene changes further underlines a lack of progression from a generation ago. Multi-layered and strong, the play can be, occasionally, exhausting to watch. But, goodness me, it’s a rewarding and worthwhile experience with much food for thought. I have no hesitation in recommending Fabric.
Review by Chis Omaweng
A powerful new play by Abi Zakarian on a UK tour this Summer starring Nancy Sullivan. FABRIC exposes the shifting roles and expectations of women in today’s society asking how, if ever, they can be fulfilled.
FABRIC is directed by Tom O’Brien and stars Nancy Sullivan who is best known for her critically acclaimed roles in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Les Miserables and The Fastest Clock in the Universe. The play is produced by Robin Rayner in association with The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury and premiered at the EM Forster Theatre Tonbridge on 22nd June 2016.
Leah has lost her friends, family and dignity. Forced to move for a third time following a harrowing court case, she relives painful events in her past as she sorts through all the stuff that has accumulated in her spare room: clothes she doesn’t wear, books she doesn’t read, things she doesn’t need anymore. Leah desperately tries to unpick just where it all went wrong and who is really to blame. FABRIC is a hard-hitting play that deals with the aftermath of a rape and recommended for ages 15+.
Full tour dates are: 22 – 25 June, EM Forster Theatre, Tonbridge; 2 July, Theatre Royal, Margate; 5 July Old Fire Station, Oxford; 6 – 7 July, Mercury Theatre, Colchester; 8 – 9 July, The Cryer, Carshalton; 11 – 14 July, New Wimbledon Studio, London; 20 July, The Hawth, Crawley; and 21 – 22 July, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury.
This brand new play was developed by TREMers (Off West End Award winning ‘The Dogs Of War’ by Tim Foley & ‘The Fastest Clock in the Universe’ by Philip Ridley) and is supported by Arts Council England.
Directed by Tom O’Brien
Set & Costume Design by Alyson Cummins
Sound Design by Max Pappenheim
Lighting Design by Zia Holly
Movement Direction by Lee Crowley
New Wimbledon Studio Theatre
Monday 11th to Thursday 14th July 2016