Fabric: unpicking gender-based violence

Billie Manning

One-person shows are hard. Hard on the actor and often, hard on the audience, requiring both to pour an immense amount of concentration and feeling into what is essentially one human standing on a stage and – somehow – telling a convincing story.

Perhaps that’s exactly where Fabric makes its first right choice, staging the play in the round, with the seating for the most part on the same level as the actor, so that the audience feels closer to kind, honest, determined Leah (Nancy Sullivan) from the start. This being said, perhaps they would anyway, because the combination of Sullivan’s ease in the role and Abi Zakarian’s exceptional writing makes for a character for whom it is easy to feel intense compassion and empathy.

Image Credit: Damsel Productions/The Other Richard
The play moves between humour and heartbreak all while keeping a level of tension you might expect from a crime novel rather than a 70-minute monologue. There are subtle red flags littering the romance Leah describes, often by way of clever voicemail messages interrupting Leah’s stories. The interruptions are made starker by Leah's often poetic language.
“He was so charming. That’s what they all say, isn’t it? He was so charming.” Eventually, Leah is charting the kind of relationship one in four women in the UK will experience in her lifetime. As a woman, it can be uncomfortably relatable. Leah’s experience gets twisted and distorted whenever it is reported back by somebody else, by her husband, by his mother, even by her own mother. One particularly striking final perversion of her words is thrown at her during the shocking crescendo of the play.
The play’s strength lies chiefly in its subtlety and avoidance of banality while relating such a common experience, so it’s disappointing when it veers slightly in the direction of cliché near the end, although it is hard to make any depiction of a court scene much less than hackneyed. But for the most part, the play remains unexpected, and manages to represent violence against women without using it for entertainment.  The simplicity in Leah’s final self-assertion is powerful.

Image Credit: Damsel Productions/The Other Richard
Overall, Zakarian’s play charts and then deftly unpicks the fabric of gender relations in our age. It unpicks the choices we make, or don’t make, and ultimately lays bare the everyday abuse that many women suffer through in the name of achieving what society tells them they want.
Fabric embarked yesterday on a London tour, coming to community centres near you.
A post-show panel discussion will be held 27 September, 1 October & 4 October focusing on what's next in the battle to end violence against women, with writer Abi Zakarian alongside representatives from Solace and their partner organisations.


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