Shoshana Devora sees a play about domestic violence that seems more intent to shock and stereotype than explore the real and complex issues around the topic
A play that purports to address the topic of domestic violence would no doubt be sensitive about the issue, right? It would acknowledge how complicated, personal and nuanced each situation is and the myriad different experiences of unacceptable violence. It would recognise that violence towards a partner is simply not ok. I mean, with two women a week being killed by current and former partners, and one in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, domestic violence has to be treated as a serious and complex problem.
Unfortunately, according to Shoshana Devora, The Soft of Her Palm has failed to do this. This is a play that perhaps tries to show the complexity of domestic violence by challenging the audience’s expectations of perpetrator/victim but actually resorts to two-dimensional and simplistic characters to create an unambitious and unhelpful narrative.
Shoshana captures this with exploration of one scene:
In one scene entirely lacking in subtlety, Phil asks Sarah’s father, a troubled man turned psychotherapist, what he would do in a couples’ counselling session if one individual took him aside and revealed they were being abused. “Refer them to a charity – Women’s Aid,” the father replies. He cannot even contemplate the idea that men can be the victims of abuse; he laughs out loud in Phil’s face. Clearly the issue of violence against men regularly meets this reaction in society and Dunkley wants to challenge expectations and assumptions about gender relations. That, though, is not an excuse for reverting to damaging and basic portrayals of women. You do not raise awareness of one troubling issue by adding to the perpetuation of another, false rape allegations being a prime example here.