Follow North East Theatre Guide on Twitter at https://twitter.com/NETheatreGuide and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NETheatreGuide. Read about JoWhereToGo and its PR and photography services here.
I keep a woman in my flat chained to a radiator ★★★★
Edinburgh Zoo (Venue 124)
Until Sunday 29th August 2016
It’s difficult to see anything funny about abuse, but Theatre, Apparently do manage to tickle the audience with their witty new show I Keep a Woman in my Flat Chained to a Radiator. The title intrigues doesn’t it. Evidentially provocative, bordering between horrific and absurd, much of the audience were probably sitting in that theatre because they were curious to see what such a title could ensue. I certainly was.
Writer Adam Willis has created two unlikely friends. It feels odd calling a kidnapper and his victim so but Stephen (Alex Wells-King) and the woman (Monica Forero) chained to his radiator do have chemistry, banter and some kind of friendship. This is evident as he relies on her for advice and prep for his upcoming date that night – the date that she apparently set up for him online. You would assume she did this to bring someone to the flat that could help her, but no, her captivity in this flat is never explained or mused on that much. Instead, while cooking dinner and shaping up the flat, captor and captive bicker and discuss other big topics such as feminism, racism and sex appeal, as if two mates at a pub. This dark image does end up being rather funny as the pair’s ‘friendship’ is very well performed, and their delivery is slick and well timed.
But what was clever was how they removed this relationship from reality by never acknowledging the very unconventional set. Blankets and pillows are pulled off what you assumed was the bed, to reveal cardboard boxes that are then used to make the dinner table, which like the kidnap victim, isn’t addressed. The ‘wardrobe’ and ‘chest of draws’ are cardboard boxes as well. What could be mistaken as a lack of funds and props, was actually to me a clever signifier that this world is on the edge of reality.
Indeed, this bizarre feature matched their relationship. I mean watching a woman chained to a radiator nag her captor about what shirt to wear for his date was almost too absurd to be taken seriously. It is only upon reflection that I realise how effective this ultra-strangeness was, as moments of real truth and poignancy stood out with extra force. Because of their friendly chatter you soon forget the abuse that is in front of your eyes. But small yet raw references to sexual assault as well as moments where Stephen’s controlling and possessive personality slips through, crash the audience back down to reality. These moments were handled wonderfully, and make the play so much more than just a dark comedy; they reframe the whole image as a surreal portrayal of abusive relationships.
This conclusion didn’t immediately hit me when watching the show. I mean there were uncomfortable distractions (believe it or not, other distractions aside from a woman being detained). The script played with political correctness throughout, joking about the politics of using racial slurs and the many debates of feminism. I don’t mind exploring these issues and even laughing at the occasional embarrassments they can accidentally cause for people. But I did struggle with knowing what they wanted us to laugh at. Did they want us to laugh at people’s ignorance, or at political correctness itself? The sense that it might have been the latter made me uncomfortable, as I couldn’t quite see to what end it was. Perhaps a little more development was needed in regard to what the purpose of these jokes was.
Yet despite this small discomfort, the play had quite a bit of genius to it. I’ll admit, it’s a headscratcher; I only properly knew what I wanted to say about it a few days after watching it. But that’s okay – figuring out a play is a wonderful activity for your mind in the days after a show, and with I Keep a Woman, I was pleasantly surprised at the conclusions I reached. And I’m very glad it turned out to be more than just a provocative title.
Review by Jackie Edwards.
I keep a woman in my flat chained to a radiator appears at Edinburgh Zoo at 16:00 until Sunday 29th August 2016. Tickets cost £9 (£7 conc) and are available at the usual Fringe outlets and online at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/i-keep-a-woman-in-my-flat-chained-to-a-radiator