“Our Glass House is a site-specific event by Common Wealth that explores domestic abuse, the reasons why people stay in abusive relationships and how they leave. It is based on real-life interviews that the company carried out with survivors of domestic abuse- family members, friends, neighbours and female and male survivors they approached through charities. The show was first staged in a house in Bristol and is on a 2013 UK tour from Bradford to Edinburgh and then to London. Please see www.commonwealththeatre.co.uk for more info about the show and Common Wealth.” -Evie Manning
Laura Barnett writes:
It is an ordinary house, on an ordinary street. Once you have been handed the key, you can walk inside. Here is Kayleigh – 17 and living with her violent boyfriend; in the kitchen is Helen, in her 70s and married for 40 years. Upstairs, you meet Sufiya, newly arrived from Pakistan to be married to a man she hardly knows. Among them all wanders a child, Charlie: 10 years old and terrified of the father who controls his every move.
This is the world created by Our Glass House, a compelling piece of site-specific, immersive theatre exploring the impact of domestic abuse. Created by theatre-makers Evie Manning and Rhiannon White for their company Common Wealth, the show takes place not in a theatre but in the heart of a local community. Last year, it was performed in two houses in Bristol; in March this year, it transferred to an empty flat on a Bradford estate. Next month, it will move to a house in Edinburgh, as part of the Edinburgh fringe; and in November, it will come to London.
The show aims to plunge audiences into the tense, claustrophobic atmosphere that pervades any home where violence and control are the norm – and to make us think again about what might be happening behind closed doors. Six stories – performed by actors from each local area, but based on real testimony – are staged simultaneously, in different rooms: audience members wander between them, piecing together the scenarios as they unfold…
…There’s no doubting the potential emotional impact of Our Glass House, especially on those who have first-hand experience of domestic abuse. White and Manning advise any audience members who find the show too distressing to feel free to leave (only a couple of people have done so). Representatives of local charities and refuges attend each performance, which is then followed by a post-show discussion. One male audience member emailed Manning and White later to say that he’d spoken to his mother about his abusive father for the first time; a teenage girl told Manning after the show that she was being raped by her boyfriend. It was the first time she had admitted it to anyone.
It is in this capacity to unlock the silence that still surrounds domestic abuse that White and Manning hope the show’s power ultimately lies. “If anyone, having seen the show,” White says, “feels able to ask the question of a friend or neighbour, or to say that it’s happened to them before, then maybe we can make a small difference.”
If you or someone you know is facing domestic violence, contact information to helplines and anti-abuse organizations from around the world are available here.