Challenging new play from Open Clasp

Peter Lathan

Newcastle theatre company Open Clasp’s new co-production with Live Theatre, Rattle Snake, tackles coercive controlling domestic abuse, a “pattern of behaviour which seeks to take away the victim's liberty or freedom, to strip away their sense of self.” It is not just women's bodily integrity which is violated but also their human rights.

Rattle Snake is a follow up to Key Change, which was devised with women from the Young Offenders Institution at Low Newton Prison in Durham, as it too tells real life stories of women who have faced and survived coercive control in domestic abuse.

Coinciding with the change in UK law in 2015 making coercive control in relationships a crime, Rattle Snake was originally commissioned by Durham University and Durham Constabulary, funded by Durham Police, Crime & Victims’ Commissioner and is used in the training of frontline police officers.

PC Tony Miley was one of 398 officers from Durham Constabulary who took part in the training with Open Clasp. He said, “this was, by a country mile, the most engaging, impactful and thought-provoking training session I have had in my fourteen-year career in the police. Very emotive topic and excellently portrayed by the two tremendously talented actors—it blew my socks off!”

Durham Police, Crime & Victims’ Commissioner Ron Hogg added, “this play provided an innovative approach to training here in Durham. It provided front-line officers with a unique opportunity to learn through theatre, so that they would further understand coercive control in domestic abuse, and the day-to-day incidents which victims suffer though this appalling crime.”

“Imagine,” said Catrina McHugh, Open Clasp’s Artistic Director and the writer of Rattle Snake, “imagine a life where you live with your doors and windows locked, one where you can’t breathe the air of a free person, constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering if this day is the last for you and your children… This is the reality of coercive control in domestic abuse.

“During the training, officers sat in bullet-proof vests daring us to make an impact and we did. Now we take it to a national audience. It was a total honour to collaborate with the women who inspired the story. I believe that Rattle Snake is important theatre, it takes your breath away and will change lives.”

It’s a story with no ending; a chance meeting with one man changes the lives of two women forever. Now they both live trying to predict the unpredictable. Rattle Snake is based on real life stories of women who have faced and survived coercive controlling domestic abuse

The cast of two is Christina Berriman Dawson, one of the Key Change cast, as Suzie and Eilidh Talman as Jen. It will be directed by Charlotte Bennett, associate director at Soho Theatre, and designed by Anna Reid.

Rattle Snake will première at Live Theatre, Newcastle, from 21 to 30 September and will then tour to:

  • 4 October Sunderland Stages at The Royalty Theatre, Sunderland
  • 17-21 October, York Theatre Royal
  • 23-28 October, Soho Theatre, London