Made It Theatre
The Kings Arms, Salford
Ann Brown does not deny she intends her autobiographical play Green Door to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the corroding effect of low self-esteem. She concludes her solo performance by taking questions and declaring a willingness to tour educational establishments and community centres. Potential customers who are concerned this approach will push the play into the ‘worthy but dull’ category need not worry: this is a powerful, compelling and highly imaginative production.
In 1996 while on a disappointing holiday, Ann Brown meets the man of her dreams—he looks good in tight black trousers and shares her enthusiasm for the songs of Shakin' Stevens. Gradually, however, she comes to realise she has entered into a relationship with a manipulative liar who is not only violent but a probable rapist. Years of abuse lower Ann’s self-esteem to the point where she feels unable to escape the relationship.
Green Door is a monologue but director Daniel Brennan does not let this hold back a strongly atmospheric production. The opening scenes, featuring Ann obsessing about her new lover, have an innocent giddy tone with Brown almost skipping around the stage. The lighting descending into moody shadows highlights Ann’s growing misgivings about her lover while the onset of physical violence is shown in a terrifying blast of noise and the theatre plunging into pitch darkness. There is fine attention to detail—a tatty disco lamp and Brown’s look of disappointment capturing a night out in a rundown seaside pub.
Ann Brown is the least pretentious actor in the business, cheerfully greeting and chatting with patrons on arrival and starting the show in a casual manner. It is easy to relate to the down-to-earth personality projected by Brown.
One of the aspects of domestic abuse that makes the subject so puzzling to outside observers is why anyone would stay in an abusive relationship. The rueful tone taken by Brown suggests she can understand this incredulity as the unsympathetic reaction of her mother was due largely to a sense of anger that Ann was not able to confide. Green Door shows how abuse can erode the self-confidence of the victim to the extent they become incapable of taking any action. Ann goes from being a worker to someone rendered unemployable having developed a debilitating stutter. A vicious circle develops with Ann constantly reminded of her unworthiness; she is even dependent upon her abuser for providing low-skilled employment.
The script for Green Door is highly evocative. There is a strong undertone of menace in the abuser’s dialogue turning innocent phrases into threats. There is no doubt the controlling manipulation of the abuser and the mental suffering he inflicts is as awful as his physical violence as he pushes Ann to go through with a planned holiday despite the death of her father. Brown’s dry sense of humour is apparent in the script, pointing out the ominous choice of "Bad Moon Rising" as first song at her wedding.
Green Door ought to be deeply depressing. However, the demonstration of Ann Brown recovering her self-esteem is an inspiring story of finding the courage to take the first step towards change told in an energetic and engaging manner.
Reviewer: David Cunningham