The Black Eye Club, Bread & Roses Theatre

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Zoe’s back at her commuter belt town’s refuge after her husband beat her up again. This time it’s because Palace lost. Last time, it was because she was nagging to much. She jokes about what will bring her here the next time with her new friend Dave, an anxious gay man who escaped through his bathroom window after his partner beat the shit out of him again. Dave’s not allowed in the refuge, but Zoe felt bad and snuck him in.

The Metropolitan Police state that 85% of reported domestic violence cases are heterosexual, male-on-female abuse. 10% are men, women and people of other genders in non-heterosexual relationships. Though the script’s dramaturgy is uneven, writer Phil Charles cannily addresses male domestic abuse without disregarding the vast gender bias in the crime, and builds the foundations of a compelling story. Of course this smaller demographic deserves attention, but ignoring the gender imbalance of domestic violence is a disservice to its female victims. Charlies avoids this well.

Charles initially focuses on one single night that the two share, which would have much more impact if this unity of time was adhered to. Instead, he stretches out the narrative and spotlights moments outside of this time frame, skipping vital development and glossing over the intensity of this single night. Though this makes for a more uplifting story, it rings false – the tension and stakes in the first part of the play are lost.

Christopher Sherwood excels as the quiet, insecure Dave, a middle class accountant. He’s countered by Rebecca Pryle’s Zoe is a brash and unapologetic risk taker – she’s less nuanced that Sherwood, though her character is painted in broader, working class strokes. With much less stage time but glimmers of a haplessly oppressive system that does more harm than good, Cathryn Sherman is agency night staff Sharon. Charles dabbles in political anger, but then shies away from it – a shame with a character like this. The trio compliment each other well, drawing attention to secondary issues of social class, mobility and affluence.

There’s a lot of potential in the scenario that Charles has conjured, even if his telling of the story isn’t the most effective. He has a cracking set of characters and a clear message that, with further narrative adjustment and dramaturgical support, has heaps of potential to become a more powerful and moving work.

The Black Eye Club runs through 18 November.

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