Is This Thing On?
Old Red Lion Theatre
It has taken a long time for the UK to recognise and respond to the disturbingly high levels of domestic violence of which women are the main victims.
But violence is only one aspect of domestic abuse that even when no violence is involved can be terribly destructive.
Frigg Theatre’s forty-minute play Is This Thing On? gives us a relationship which is clearly abusive. It is physically oppressive, bullying and leaves the character Joanna (Disa Anderson) “feeling weak and vulnerable”, and even driven to her bed for three weeks.
The play opens with Joanna stepping up to a standing mike and giving a naturalistic, lyrical testimony to what we imagine is a meeting gathered to address the issue of domestic abuse. It is a striking scene in which the writing is at its best.
The relationship may be over but its impact remains and the play takes us back to some of the events that helped to destroy it.
The seventeen-year-old Joanna was initially attracted to the twenty-four-year-old Jack’s (Joshua Stretton) wit, except his ability to talk increasingly became just another way to trample on her confidence. She tells us “his words were like razors.”
We see him turn his jokes about his iguana tattoo into a supposed joke slap across Joanna’s face, because, as he explains, his arm is like the flick of an iguana’s tail.
At a jazz club, he forces her to drink alcohol from a flask he has smuggled in. And when he hears she is late with her period, he angrily accuses her of deliberately forgetting to take a contraceptive pill.
However, the brief scenes of abuse never bring the characters to life and the predictable, occasionally stiff dialogue doesn’t help to take us beyond the stereotype of a one-dimensional abuser.
Perhaps it is enough to hate his behaviour and recognise Joanna’s truth when she says, “he wanted a doll, a puppet, a plaything.”
But dramatically, the play needs much more to make it something audiences rush to see.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna