Liv Warden
Wildchild Productions
Old Red Lion Theatre

Piper (Natasha Cowley) Credit: Headshot Toby
Polly (Alice Handoll) Credit: Headshot Toby
Penny (Katherine Samuelson) Credit: Headshot Toby

How come so many people fail to notice the abusive behaviour of a person close to them?

That is the question Liv Warden explores in her sensitive and engaging play Anomaly which opens with senior executive “fixer” Piper (Natasha Cowley) phoning her sister Penny (Katherine Samuelson) about a potential problem for their company Preston International.

She explains that police had been called when their father Phillip Preston who heads the company had violently attacked their mother.

And that event is far from being the first such act of its kind. The third sister Polly (Alice Handoll) later privately recalls being injured at the age of eight with the flash of a belt across her face after accidentally walking into a study during her father’s sexual encounter with a woman.

But that was in a different time and, although the school noticed the injury, the headteacher probably remembered Phillip's contribution to the school as she concluded it was just an anomaly requiring no further action.

That was the usual way things went in those days and both sisters and mother had kept silent about all those other so-called anomalies. It was a matter of loyalty to family and later the company he headed.

Post-Weinstein, such blindness is less possible, so, when Piper meets other executives to discuss how they handle the usual cover-up, they tell her that Phillip has to be ditched.

Of course they aren’t surprised at his behaviour. They have bought off many other cases against Phillip. These officials aren’t even concerned about the victim. It is simply a matter of damage limitation for the company at a time where Phillip's behaviour has become a liability.

As the world of his daughters begins to unravel, we see the way their failed relationships and complicity of silence about their father's abuse has been encouraged by family ties and a share in the economic benefits of his power.

Their stories are heard through conversations they have with the disembodied male voices of advisers, other senior company people and a partner. Phillip is never seen but always present as the subject shaping their lives.

Against a clinically white minimal set, broken by a blood-red, scar-like media collage across the floor, they talk by phone to each other, the three never coming together except in a nightmarish tabloid radio phone-in designed as public relations but turning into something very different.

The things we hear are sometimes shocking and, in a particularly moving performance, Katherine Samuelson as Penny recalls with tears running down her cheeks the terrible consequences of when at the age of sixteen she had reported to her mother something she saw her dad do to another woman. She says this privately to her partner but Polly decides to go much further in a powerful tweet.

The play is a persuasive picture of the way victims under the pressure of family, media and corporate business can contribute to an institutional culture that allows and sometimes encourages abuse that is then conveniently hidden.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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