Written by Claire Moore from Certain Curtain Theatre Company
What started as a one-off project became a personal passion and completely changed the direction of our work. When we set up the company in 1989, we wanted to write original plays and tour them to spaces where people don’t expect to see high quality, professional theatre. In 1995 we were asked to help launch a drug and alcohol helpline for friends and family members. We were asked to do a ten-minute drama to highlight the need to seek outside help when a family member is abusing alcohol or drugs. Domestic violence kept coming into our research – not because alcohol/drugs cause domestic violence but because it is, so often, used to excuse it. Domestic violence was also an issue that many of us keep silent about and seemed a good place to anchor our drama. To show that family secrets should not prevent someone seeking help and support.
We knew a ten-minute drama was never going to do what we wanted it to do. So, THE KNOT was originally written as a one-hour drama and we cut it down to 30 minutes for the helpline launch. To be honest they spent more money on the buffet than they did on our drama. This was a one-off, but it mattered – whatever we do, we do 100%.
At the launch, we were nervous – no-one had seen it and when you live with a piece – researching, writing, rehearsing you can forget it’s impact. At the end – there was total silence – not one clap from our 100 strong audience. We looked side-ways at each other and got ready to sidestep our way off the stage – I say stage it was a floor space in a small community centre. Then it came – the claps – then the standing ovation. It was so moving to see the faces of audience and after a big PHEW we were able to take it all in.
We left that community centre feeling pretty chuffed with what we’d achieved. Un-beknown to us two women were so moved by the performance they did not want to see it end there. They spent two years seeking funding to fund a short tour to community centres in West Lancashire. This meant we could do the original one-hour script. That tour led to another and another. Every audience we reached, someone would recommend us to a colleague or another area and this led to THE KNOT touring regularly for over twelve years.
Survivors and victims
After each performance women and some men would come to talk to me about their own experiences of being subjected to male violence and this had a profound impact on me. Many asking, ‘How did you know my story?’ The prevalence of domestic abuse worldwide is far greater than any statistics we can read. Domestic violence is grossly under-reported. When we are in an abusive relationship, we learn one important thing – to keep quiet.
We may not realise we are experiencing abuse but most importantly we don’t talk about it. Why? Fear. Love. Hope. Guilt. Shame. The barriers we face when we disclose domestic abuse can keep us in an abusive relationship. Victim-blaming attitudes from friends, colleagues, organisations add to our sense of shame and guilt. They make us try to change – to be better – but we stay and the risks to our mental health, physical health and that of our children increase. The focus was too often on victim’s and survivor’s behaviour and not on the perpetrator’s actions. I knew we could help change that.
Drama creating change.
I knew that what women were sharing with me needed to be retold, shared with not only professionals but also the public. Drama engages us on so many levels. Engages us in ways nothing else does. It’s a great way to share stories, hear the unheard voices. We invest in characters, route for them and care when they have bad experiences. Good drama can also challenge us and the attitudes and views we hold.
We can ‘experience’ a subject that may be alien to us. We have an emotional connection with drama and it is this that we remember. It is this that stays with us. When we are seeking funding it’s always difficult to show why what we do matters. It’s easier to recognise the need for computers for an after-school club than to recognise the impact a domestic violence drama can have on an audience. But when we understand an issue fully. When we understand the struggles of living with an abusive partner. When we no longer blame victims for staying in an abusive relationship. When we focus on supporting victims. When we hold perpetrators to account – we truly create change.
Changing what we believe about something changes our behaviour – we can be more supportive, listen instead of judge. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ – think ‘Why doesn’t he just stop?’
Seven plays and counting.
Domestic violence is a complex issue and its impact is far reaching, which is why we have written seven original plays exploring different aspects of abuse. Our current project is to turn our play MOCKINGBIRD HIGH into a digital resource. Mockingbird High has toured for nine years. This play explores the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people.
For many years, we have championed the rights of children to be recognised as not just ‘witnesses’ of domestic abuse but as victims. When we are living with domestic violence as children, we are directly impacted by it. It defines our world.. We feel the tension, the fear, the uncertainty and we feel to blame. Children are finally being recognised as victims of domestic abuse. They will no longer be the hidden victims. With this recognition comes the need to understand the true impact of domestic violence on children.We know our work makes a real and lasting impact on people’s understanding of these issues and we don’t want to see this valuable drama left on the shelf. So, we will bring it back to life in a digital performance package, which will mean it can be accessed internationally and by a wider, diverse audience. We have half of what we need and are crowdfunding with GIVEY to help us reach our goal. Givey is a wonderful platform championing smaller charities and helping them raise their voices – they seemed a perfect fit for us.
Many of us experience abuse within relationships and reaching out can be difficult. Here are some domestic abuse support helplines in the UK
- You are not alone
- You are not to blame
If you are in immediate danger dial 999
If you need to access domestic abuse support, you can call:
National Domestic Abuse 24hr Helpline – 0808 2000 247 – www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ (run by Refuge)
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327 (run by Respect)
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428 (run by Galop)
Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
Women’s Aid has a chat service and survivors handbook. You can also find information so you can support someone you love or your children.
Welsh Women’s Aid call 24/7 on 0808 80 10 800 They also have a chat service.
Women’s Aid Scotland – Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline remains fully operational during the coronavirus pandemic. Call 24/7 on 0800 027 1234
Written by Claire Moore from Certain Curtain Theatre Company