Big Bad, VAULT Festival

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by Laura Kressly

A woman is chained up in a damp cell. Alone, she is watched by an unseen group of men, afraid of her power. She rants, lectures and mocks them, gradually exposing the real reason she is imprisoned. It’s a pretty horrible thing, but her story of abuse, sexual power and society’s fear of strong women echoes like the howl of a wolf.

The script, whilst remaining specific to the pacing character on stage, brims with truisms about how women are treated by men. Objectified, sexualised and controlled, we are angry and powerful in spite of the patriarchy’s dominance. This woman, whilst in possession of a detailed backstory, manages to be something of an Everywoman. It’s a well-crafted balance.

The performance doesn’t quite measure up to the character, though. The delivery is too unvaried – there is plenty of rage, but this drowns out emotional nuance. Her stories are painful to hear and whilst her anger is wholly justified, there is little sense of her being the mythological outcast that she is eventually revealed to be.

For a solo performance, the use of her unseen guards is a great device that gives the piece wider context rather than merely being a monologue delivered to a vague and unestablished listener. The design is simple, and the prison setting suits the Vaults’ damp, brick walls perfectly.

Care, attention and clear choices are evident this production, all traits that can be inconsistently employed in festival work. It’s a polished, complete play with a confrontational viscerality necessary in the world today. With greater emotional range applied to the performance, this would be a really fantastic piece of theatre.

Big Bad runs through 18 March.

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