Our Glass House
4 stars ****
Summerhall at Whale Arts, Wester Hailes (Venue 26)
TAKE A BUS to Wester Hailes, wait for a while outside the Whale Arts centre, and then walk across a road and round a few corners – past crescents and gardens and streets of suburban houses – to the place where Common Wealth of London are presenting their site-specific show Our Glass House, about the experience of victims of domestic violence. The house is an ordinary one, behind a pale red door; sitting-room, dining-kitchen and garden on the ground floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, another bedroom at the top.
Yet as we, the audience, make our way round the house, each of us choosing our own individual path through it, we soon begin to realise that each of these spaces contains a world of pain, expressed by the character who spends most time there. There’s the middle-class lady in the sitting-room, sometimes sprawled on the floor, sometimes simply recounting the terrible barrage of insults and violence she endured for 40 years. There’s the young pregnant woman in the kitchen, the teenage girl in the bathroom, the veiled Asian woman at the dining-table, the little boy running from room to room; and in the first floor bedroom, the man, unable to believe how powerless he is to resist his partner’s violence without becoming violent himself.
It’s an important subject, and the words – drawn from the testimony of real-life victims – have all the raw power that comes from direct human experience. What’s striking about the show, though, co-created by Rhiannon White and director Evie Manning, is the artistry with which it combines the text with a series of haunting installations, some memorably high-powered acting, and a truly magnificent soundscape by Wojtek Rusin, echoing through the house in a dark symphony of bangs, muffled cries, and sudden loud music. “You are here as a witness,” says the stark white lettering against the garden wall; but this powerful show leaves us in no doubt that the tragedy of domestic violence lies in the isolation it imposes on its victims, and in the fact that their suffering is often witnessed, or truly seen, by no one at all.