I went to a party last night. Bev’s party. I was greeted by Bev – a bevy of Bevs actually. Shimmering in matching grey dresses and wigs, they fizzed with anticipation and excitable banter erupted round the room like bubbles escaping from a bottle of Prosecco. I found out I was a Bev too. “Brogue Bev” – named after my stylist choice of footwear. I sat between “Dungaree Bev” and “Proper lager Bev”.
Choreographer Rhiannon Faith uses the intimacy of a party and a multiplicity of Beverlys to tell real-life stories of domestic abuse. Awash with party games and quick fire wit, a sense of conviviality ripples through the small audience. Smack That (a conversation) is co-created by women who have experienced abuse or violence. Faith extends that partnership to the audience, inviting us to participate in the performance.
Silly games burrow into darker seams. The Bevs slowly reveal their experiences of abusive partners. We’re led by words and coaxed by small gestures. Where vowels and consonants fall away, movement takes up the heavy lifting. The dancers topple over, as if they are being sucked into the floor. In a dirty battle with gravity they wrestle with an invisible enemy. One Bev has her face repeatedly smashed into a cake, a chilling echo of a forced sex act.
The Bevs are bawdry and rambunctious. They are silly and sassy, bursting balloons between their thighs and gyrating with each other on the dance floor. Faith’s gift is showing these women as whole individuals, eschewing the stereotypes of hollow victims or steely survivors. We can’t hold their experience at arms length or turn away from their anger. For some Bevs in the audience there is a the glimmer of recognition and an offer of support. At every performance there is a chill out space and a qualified therapist to talk to. Smack That is touring the UK until June. All the participating arts venues are J9 centres, where victims of domestic abuse can access a full support system.
Smack That is deeply uncomfortable theatre and this is a good thing. It’s a gut wrenching experience, but etched out of solidarity, compassion and a fierce desire for change.